Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Peony Gardens are a famous and beloved feature of the wildlife sanctuary. When they burst into bloom in June, the fragrance fills the air and the colorful flowers announce the start of summer in Maine.
Spring/Summer 2023 Photos of the peony gardens
Take a virtual tour of the gardens with former Director of Properties Peter Baecher:
David Edward Moulton (1871-1951), a prominent attorney and founder of the Portland Water District, acquired the property that was to become Gilsland Farm in 1911. His love of horticulture led him to plant many varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers on the property, but it was the peony that truly fascinated him.
By 1928, he had collected more than 200 varieties planted over four acres–reputedly one of the most complete peony collections in the country. Moulton’s flowers were so famous that individual peony roots sold for as much as $250. The Portland paper called Gilsland Farm “a show garden of peonies–wonder place of Portland.”
Moulton maintained a generous tradition for many years of giving a red peony flower to each graduate of Portland High School to wear on their graduation gowns. Alumni of Portland High School still make their way to Gilsland Farm to enjoy the peonies and remember their special day.
As a lasting tribute to her father, Ruth Moulton Freeman and her family presented Gilsland Farm to Maine Audubon on December 2, 1974. She dedicated the sixty-acre property beside the Presumpscot River “for the people of Falmouth and the people of Maine in recognition of David Moulton’s great love for his farm, and for the natural beauty and wildlife of the state of Maine.”
Though David Moulton’s fields of cultivated peonies no longer exist, and champion Jersey cattle are no longer seen grazing on what used to be a working farm, visitors to Gilsland Farm will find remnants of his collection blooming in the meadows and along the woodland edges in June.
Watch this interview with Betsey Spiller, David Moulton’s granddaughter, about the history of the Gilsland Farm peony gardens:
Because the plants multiply slowly, it is a notable achievement that our peony beds are well established and continue to flourish after nearly a century. Escaped peonies also dot the landscape around the sanctuary.
Maine Audubon is committed to engaging communities in the restoration of native plants, while maintaining these historic peony gardens which are a legacy of the property. Native perennials, shrubs, and trees have served as the foundation for habitat that has attracted and will support more wildlife for thousands of years. Please visit our “Bringing Nature Home” project page for more information.