The peony, the Indiana state flower

Peonies first arrived in the United States in the 1800s, after having been cultivated in China, Siberia and Japan for more than 2,000 years. With 40 species and more than 6,500 cultivars and hybrids, peonies can produce beautiful blooms every spring for decades — even generations.

Popular as grave decorations, peonies became the Indiana state flower in 1957, when Gov. Harold Handley signed a bill in honor of Rep. Laurence D. Baker and his wife Frances of Kendallville, Ind., who started their peony business in 1925. Laurence served in the Indiana General Assembly from 1945–1958, during which he and Frances planted peonies on the statehouse lawn and gave away carloads of blooms for events. Laurence even presented a peony bouquet to aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart! The Bakers ran four peony farms throughout the state to meet the high demand for blooms on “Decoration Day,” when families traditionally spent Memorial Day adorning the graves of loved ones with peonies.

Today, the Bakers’ legacy lives on through their grandchildren, who operate Kendallville’s Baker’s Flowers & Gifts. Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen named May 22, 2021, the date of the first Indiana Peony Festival, as “Baker Family Day,” and the festival is proud to honor Laurence and Frances’ legacy with all that we do.

Noblesville’s Historic Seminary Park

Home of the Indiana Peony Festival, Seminary Park was established in 1983 on 1.5 acres at 350 S. 10th St. in Noblesville. The county initially bought the land in 1844 for the town’s first schoolhouse, known as the County Seminary, and later it was the location of the Second Ward School, which served Noblesville students for more than 100 years. The last school building was torn down in 1969.

The park hosts band concerts, Shakespeare in the Park, outdoor weddings and community events. In 2019, Seminary Park underwent a renovation to add pathways, Edison lighting, a new gazebo and park benches. Indiana Peony Festival volunteers helped the Noblesville Parks Department to plant more than 200 peony bushes to beautify the area with peonies and prepare for the first festival.

The Indiana Peony Festival

Festival CEO and Noblesville resident Kelly McVey discovered her love of peonies more than a decade ago when she and her sisters decided to farm flowers on a 10-acre plot in Cicero, Ind. In researching potential planting options, Kelly quickly learned about the peony’s historical significance in Indiana and its diversity, hardiness and beauty, when she initially only considered it a “grandma flower.”

After hosting peony parties for her friends and luckily being seated next to a peony farmer at a leadership banquet, Kelly began to share her peony passion with everyone she knew, bringing forth the opportunity to plant peonies at Seminary Park. Her idea for the Indiana Peony Festival as a destination event began to bloom. The inaugural festival in 2021 drew more than 10,000 visitors to experience the peony’s brilliance and potential as a community builder.

Click each flower for a picture, description and details of where & when it was planted.