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Part Celosia, Part Oak

I wanted to let everyone in the blogosphere know that the Indianapolis Museum of Art would like to celebrate the accomplishments of Irvin Etienne.  He has been a part of this organization’s growing identity as a top notch public garden for the past 20 years.  He hasn’t just been pulling weeds all this time, but is a major reason why the museum’s gardens look the way they do.  I would like to thank him for his innovative ideas during the numerous garden renovations and museum expansions.  He was pivotal in looking at each area and thinking through the various exposures and design requirements. He helps all the horticulture staff with plant selections, from the best shrub that is period-appropriate in Oldfields to the brightest tropical that will practically blind you.  Imagine planting a landscape and watching it grow for 20 years.  I know that it gives him a sense of pride knowing how much of his work will provide visitors with beautiful surroundings for years and years to come. Many people just look at the plantings as a green mass and take them for granted because they seem to have always been there. I encourage you to look deeper into what you see. Can you pull out the intricacies of what has been planned? Do the colors work together; does it last and evolve throughout the season?  How do the plants textures play off of each other?

As a self described country boy who likes shiny sparkly things, he was at the forefront of the tropical plant movement in gardens and has influenced all of our home gardens.  He has made it an acceptable practice to kill a plant and not be afraid to kill it again before you have success in growing it. I can’t decide if he is more like a brightly colored Celosia that seeds everywhere and keeps coming back, or if he is like an old oak tree that remains constant and provides shelters for an entire garden.  He has sparked the fire for gardening in many people and still has passion for trying new plants.

I find it amazing as I travel around the country experiencing other gardens that Irvin seems to have some connection with a person that works at that garden or maybe even interned with them years ago. He is one of the best in the country at what he does. It is shocking how often we change jobs these days; it really makes you appreciate his commitment through all of the various directors and staff changes. I’m sure Irvin has a story about every person. I feel lucky to have worked with him for the past 14 years. He has not only taught me many things about plants and design concepts, but has been a trusted friend that can always make me laugh. If you get the chance to work with him, plan on gaining five pounds the first year.  He is constantly bringing baked goods to the office and has a special relationship with butter, sugar, and salt.

Thanks Irvin!

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Horticulture

10 Responses to “Part Celosia, Part Oak”

  • avatar

    What a nice recognition of Irvin’s incredible contributions to the gardening world.

  • avatar
    Lynne Says:

    Beautifully written, Chad…and expresses the feelings of all who know this extraordinary man!

  • avatar
    Jennifer Dennis Says:

    Irvin, the IMA is fortunate to have such a creative, talented and dedicated horticulturist such as you! You are an inspiration for all of those around you; through your work, your fun personality & sense of humor and your special relationship with butter & sugar. Happy 20th!

  • avatar
    Donna Gahwiler Says:

    It is always nice to be appreciated, especially when it’s so richly deserved! Irvin, knowing you and seeing the great work that you do has enriched us all, and certainly made the IMA a more interesting, fun, and beautiful place. Kudos to you, your talent and creativity, and to your great sense of humor. And kudos to Chad too for his thoughtfulness in expressing his appreciation so very well.

  • avatar
    Sam Bahr Says:


    Excellent article! Thanks for taking the time to give Irvin the credit that he deserves. The landscapes at the IMA are spectacular! While few on the University of Maryland campus know it, the ‘Tiger Eyes’ Sumac that our woody plant materials teacher likes so much was installed because of Irvin’s influence. His love of using tropicals in the landscape inspired me to try thyrallis this year with a backdrop of a reddish foliaged canna. Irvin is not just an informational speaker or writer, he is also a great story teller that quickly attracts attention and interest with his humor. He is the Garrison Keillor of American horticulture. In short, he is a national treasure!

  • avatar
    irvin Says:

    I work with great and kind people that happen to be extremely talented. It is a place that nourishes both creativity and the soul. It is both a refuge and a door to all the world. All that allows one to explore the possibilities to the fullest.

    I appreciate these words more than I can say, Chad. So I’ll just say a heartfelt “Thank you”.

  • avatar
    Paul Says:

    x Querlosia?

    Well written Chad.

    Well done, Irvin.

  • avatar
    Robin Says:

    I now want a shocking pink, fuzzy tree for my garden.

    Irvin is indeed the best.
    It is great to read about your appreciation of such a talented and hard working individual.

  • avatar
    Lilly Jan Says:

    I loved the article–and Irvin’s photo.

  • avatar
    Geoff Says:

    When i arrived at the IMA, i was a mere “landscraper.” Irvin, Chad, Mark & Co. welcomed me in & opened my eyes. Irvin, i now judge all gardens and containers with your work as the gold (or green or neon pink) standard. Bless you for the joy you bring to the work and beauty you share. Thank you Czar. p.s.- love and miss you all

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