Photo credit: Dr. James Brander and children, Silver Heights Peony Garden. Provincial Archives of Alberta #B6794. Photographer: Ernest Brown
Prominent Edmonton physician James Frederick Brander (1879 – 1963) came to Edmonton from Nova Scotia in 1921 and, along with his father George, soon established a peony garden in the Bonnie Doon area on an empty plot of land that George couldn’t stand to see go to waste. The Silver Heights Peony Garden, located at 93 Avenue and 85 Street in Bonnie Doon, was a major tourist attraction and the source of most of the peonies in Alberta from 1923 until the 1940s. Father and son proved that the soil and climate conditions in the area were ideal for the peony—which had previously been regarded as exotic and too delicate for the frigid north.
The first planting was small, but in later years as many as 5000 roots arrived from Holland in a single shipment. Altogether, 200 named varieties were grown and, in full flowering time, an estimated quarter of a million blooms could be seen. When George Brander died in 1933, his family continued the Peony Gardens until the Second World War made such large-scale flower operations impractical. The plants were dug up, divided into 50,000 roots and sold to gardening aficionados around Edmonton.
In 2002, Fort Edmonton Park completed a recreation of the peony garden, which included 26 varieties of peonies.
Located south Edmonton, Brander Gardens elementary school is named after Dr. James Brander.