What comes to mind when you think of Indianapolis? The Indy 500? Basketball? Gardens?
Well, probably not gardens, which is why a visit to the city was a surprise when I discovered a number of lovely public gardens spread across this capitol town.
Steps from downtown is White River State Park, the city’s urban getaway with greenway space and a collection of interesting museums including the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art. The park is also home to the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens.
The 3-acre White River Gardens showcases the DeHaan Tiergarten, a collection of nine small gardens, including an impressive design garden, filled with ideas easy to duplicate at home. There is also a shade garden, a sun garden with trails and a stream, a water garden, and a wedding garden. An ornamental allée is just outside the Hilbert Conservatory, the 5,000 square foot glass centerpiece filled with tropical greenery and a seasonal butterfly exhibit.
Five miles north of downtown are several gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The 152-acre museum grounds include the art museum and, of particular interest, the Oldfields-Lilly House and Gardens. The 26-acre estate of the Lilly family is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Its gardens were designed by the famous landscape architecture firm Olmstead Brothers (the firm that designed New York’s Central Park) and include a formal garden, a one-acre hillside ravine garden, and a tree-lined allée that stretches 775 feet in front of the Lilly house ending with a circular pool and fountain. Take extra time and visit 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, one of the largest museum sculpture parks in the world.
South of downtown is Garfield Park Conservatory and Sunken Garden. The 10,000 square foot conservatory houses tropical plants like the lipstick tree (Bixa orellana), ice cream bean tree (Inga edulis) and strawberry guava (Psidium littorale). The Sunken Garden just beyond the conservatory is three acres of European-style formal gardens and fountains.
WHEN YOU GO:
A number of small gardens dot the downtown thanks to Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., a group that transformed 20 eyesore sites into landscaped gateways and gardens, planting more than 240,000 flowers and 2,400 trees. The group sends a “Beautification Calendar” with timelines and flower colors to its 1,000 downtown businesses to encourage a coordinated planting look each season.
Worth an extra trip is a drive 150 miles north to Amish Country and its spectacular Quilt Gardens spread out across seven cities on the state’s Heritage Trail. These nearly two-dozen gigantic quilt patterned gardens showcase over one million blooms May to October each year. Check their web site for specific open dates.
Beverly Hurley is the editor of Triangle Gardener magazine in North Carolina. When she is not gardening, she loves to travel and tour gardens.