Indianapolis Museum of Art
An Unexpected Gardener's Delight

The Indianapolis Museum of Art seemed weird place to put on a garden writer’s tour.

Not that we garden writers may not be interested in art galleries but on our annual symposium we normally tour the most interesting gardens of our host city. Indianapolis was the location of this year’s (2011) symposium and it had a great looking program except for the tour of the Art Museum. Were we ever wrong.

Early In The Morning The traditional early morning photo shoot had a bus full of dedicated photographers in the parking lot of the Art Museum just as the sun was finding the horizon. We stumbled off the bus in the near dark to discover that this delightful piece of modern architecture was surrounded by over 100 acres of gardens. The former Lilly estate is the basis for all of these gardens and the Museum is the recent addition. Struggling down the pathway in the receding darkness we all spread out trying to find the perfect shot to utilize the morning sun as it poked it’s way through the mature trees of this delightful estate.

oldfields lilly house The Oldfields-Lilly House The original house is surrounded with an immaculate large lawn and a wide range of mature trees. There was a cutting garden behind a wall that would have, and still does, provide flowers to decorate the house. The vegetable gardens that would have been here when the family occupied the house are now nearly gone but the greenhouse that supported both of these working gardens is still very much intact and forms part of the delightful gift shop that the Indianapolis Museum of Art, like all public gardens, has, to produce needed revenue.

Down The Ravine As I walked around the back of the house I found a meandering path that worked its way down into a deep ravine. There was a series of ponds and a man made stream that tumbled down the centre of this garden until it joined the old city canal at the bottom. The tow path along this canal is now a popular biking and running trail. The gardens that surrounded this stream were a cascading mix of evergreens and perennials.

Profusion of Pink At the bottom I was entranced by a large flowering shrub resplendent in pink blossoms. It was unfamiliar to this zone 5 gardener but like all good public gardens it had a label and leaning down under its floriferous hanging branches I discovered that it was an Abelia X grandiflora which my research indicated was hardy to zone 7. Almost made me want to move south. Winding my way uphill through this vary natural and flowing garden I came upon a large white arbour that was the entry way to the opposite extreme.

Formality Found A formal garden with arbours and allees and architecture, made for some delightful photographs and made us glad we had come on the early bus. All of the people on the later buses had no opportunity to get photos of this garden devoid of people. Following the path through the formal garden led us up a series of steps flanked by some wonderful planted containers until we reached the French doors opening from the house. The view from the interior of the house would have been down that long path into the formal garden.

Found Food We found our way back to the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s main gathering room as the rest of the buses were arriving and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast put on by our good friends from Fiskar’s tools. They outlined the features of their newest tools as we visited several different food stations that were located in this light and airy room. We also discovered that the rather heavily planted and attractive car park, was actually a large green roof that covered even more parking and other underground facilities and gathered all of the rain water runoff from this parking to be used for irrigation through the gardens.

Outdoor Art Went out after breakfast with the crowd to get a few more shots and to appreciate the diversity and size of this garden including some of the outdoor art pieces. As the buses took us away I realized that I would like to return here to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art some day to spend some time appreciating the art exhibits inside this splendid space.

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