Sisson's Peony Gardens

Also known as: Windmill Garden
207 N. Main St., Rosendale, Wisconsin

Former commercial nursery specializing in peonies, now a landmark garden.

Photos 

Overview Looking Northwest

This front face runs along Main Street, also Wisconsin Highway 26. At one time, the gardens covers five acres, all accessed through this entrance.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in August 2013

Enlarge

Map 

Description 

When Wilbur Sisson moved to Rosendale in 1918, after he retired, took up residence with his widowed sister. As a hobby, he began growing peonies, iris and gladiolus. Sisson developed an excitement for his new hobby that he began to sell plants via mail-order out of his sisterís home. He had customers throughout the United States. Eventually, Wilbur bought more property and expanded his garden. He needed some help, and hired a man named Jesse Phillips who eventually became a partner and owner. (Phillips inherited the business when Sisson passed away in 1950.)

Phillips designed and built the windmill and the entrance gate in 1928. (Phillips could be considered one of Wisconsin's self-taught artisans.) The windmill became the signature icon of the Sisson Gardens and was the visitor's registration site. The two structures remain as they were built, including the distinctive blue color of the windmill wings.

Phillips registered 3 hybrid varieties of peonies with the American Peony Society, named for family members. Tinka Phillips, Owen F. Hughes and and Kathryn E. Manuel, daughter, grandfather and aunt respectively.

At one time, Sissonís Peony Gardens occupied a five-acre interlocking series of gardens that were all accessed through this gate and past this windmill. Each summer, a June Peony Festival was held here with thousands of visitors, even naming a Peony Queen each year.

1979 was the beginning of the end for the gardens. Phillips sold the gardens and continued to assist for a couple of years but soon the back properties were sold and developed into residential neighborhood. In 1988, the commercial gardens closed forever. Grass, brush and trees soon overtook the garden. Peonies were removed, name tags removed and the gardens almost lost.

The remaining garden was acquired by the Rosendale Historical Society in 2005. Restoration of the garden began after a Peony Board was appointed. Newly built, raised beds were constructed by volunteers and peonies were transplanted to the new beds. Sections of fence were sold as memorials or given as donations and a fence was built around the garden.

Most of peonies in the garden were part of Wilbur Sisson's original garden. The Historical Society and the community care for the gardens. The garden is open daily, but the peonies bloom in May and June.

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 22, 2006
Reference number
06001193
Architectural styles
American Movement; Other architectural type; Gardens
Area of significance
Commerce
Level of significance
Local
Evaluation criteria
A - Event
Property type
Site
Historic function
Garden
Current function
Garden
Periods of significance
1925-1949; 1950-1974
Significant year
1928
Number of properties
Contributing structures: 3
Contributing sites: 1

Update Log 

  • September 20, 2013: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status, Added Description and Added Photos

Sources