Back to

Autumn arrives at the IMA

It’s mid-October in central Indiana, and that means fall leaf color is gearing up for going full swing. Driving down any highway it seems clear that maples make the biggest impression, but take a stroll through the IMA’s gardens and Art & Nature Park and you’ll quickly notice there are many other plants that are praiseworthy as we approach the end of October and beginning of November. Represented here is a small handful of what will be changing their stripes over the next several weeks.

While Oriental spicebush (Lindera angustifolia) doesn’t have many frills the rest of the year, it captures this season perfectly with its stunning display of reds and oranges that set off the fruit like small black pearls when the light catches them. Every fall I get sucked in trying to capture the fiery perfection of the leaves from up close with my camera, but no photograph can truly substitute for the sheer marvel of coming across these beauties on a crisp, autumn day’s stroll.


Lindera angustifolia

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is an herbaceous perennial, but by this point in the season it carries the same weight as a mounded shrub. This thing practically wears a halo when it glows on rainy, overcast days.

Amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii

Both in the gardens and at the Art & Nature Park, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) shows off not only golden leaves, but an even more impressive load of poppy-red and coral berries that make great bird candy. The berries begin coloring up much earlier while the leaves are still green, but will persist, as long as the birds allow, long after the leaves have dropped and cold weather has moved in to stay.

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata

Another plant that is frequently seen along the highway is staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), which is an Indiana native that thrives in tough soil conditions and provides lovely masses of red and orange for fall road trips.  But let’s not forget some of the other native sumacs that are just as stunning without being quite as prolific.  Shining sumac (Rhus copallina) brings in a different color palette than the others with its rich, purple-hued reds, while fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) transitions into a low-growing carpet mirroring similar shades of the orangey-red of the staghorn sumac.

Rhus copallina (left) and Rhus aromatica (right)

Rhus copallina (left) and Rhus aromatica (right; photo courtesy of

Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) is one of those rare garden shrubs that look great year-round, but if a “best” season needed to be determined I would have to pick fall. It has enough orange to make it noticeable among the many yellows of the season, yet is soft enough to blend well with just about anything with which it is paired. Fitting into nearly any type of landscape, this plant will always find it has my undying devotion as a lovely and deserving specimen.

Amelanchier x grandiflora

Amelanchier x grandiflora

One shrub that requires both space and patience to develop is bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), but it is well worth the wait. It provides both a stunning floral display at a time in the summer when few other shrubs are blooming, and a vibrant yellow tapestry in the fall that may serve as either a backdrop for other fall fancies or proudly star, front and center. Either way it is a showstopper.

Aesculus parviflora

Aesculus parviflora

Oh, boy, is this one inspiring! Redbud hazel (Disanthus cercidifolius) is not commonly used and may be mistaken for common redbud when its leaves are green, but it makes its presence known in the fall when its heart-shaped leaves turn a deep burgundy-red that echoes the marvel of sweetgum and pagoda dogwood. As an understory shrub, it doesn’t even need sun to bring out the best of its colors, and as icing on the cake, when the leaves drop on this little gem the small, deep red flowers along the stem are exposed as the season moves from fall into winter.

Disanthus cercidifolius

Disanthus cercidifolius

Over the next month if you’re looking for a place to take in the glory of the changing season, look no further than the IMA’s backyard and come lose yourself in the heady glow of a living, picture-perfect color palette.



100 Acres’ Play Patch

“Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.” – Henry David Thoreau

One thing that the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres has in abundance is space for exploration. After all, it has a lake, a river AND a canal, wetlands that fill and drain with the seasons, a perfect tadpole pool, dense woods that are like a barricade, open woods that invite a proper game of cops and robbers, a meadow for chasing fireflies, heavy grapevines that resemble something old and gnarled from the Forbidden Forest, and twisty paths that don’t show up on the map but mysteriously disappear over a ridge or around a corner. And that’s just on the nature side of things.

The evolution of 100 Acres and its visitors has been an interesting one, and as we begin to better understand why people come and what they are looking for, we can begin to interpret the natural part of our piece of White River floodplain in a way that the Indianapolis community and beyond can appreciate. There is still quite a bit of “wild” in 100 Acres and, to some degree, we want to keep it that way. What better opportunity for teaching visitors how to respond to and respect the nature they are experiencing? There are many different vines in the park; which ones are okay to touch and which ones will make your skin itch and burn the next day? Oops; that river embankment is too steep to scale and forces you to find a better way back up. Ouch! What makes that specific spot so ideal for that ground bees’ nest? Our goal is to make things accessible without making them too easy, without removing all risk and therefore all opportunities to learn something nature can teach about our place in the environmental community.

play_patchAs a way to address this challenge of cognitive accessibility, a new element was introduced to the park this season: a Play Patch. The idea is a simple one, using all wood materials found onsite to create a creative play area that includes interactive elements that can be moved, manipulated and explored. If the whole of 100 Acres is a bit intimidating, the Play Patch was designed in an effort to ease people into interacting with natural elements that haven’t been shellacked, plasticized or cleaned up. A ring of seats cut from recycled tree trunks, loose branches for building structures, and tree cookies made from cross-sections of smaller branches make up the play pieces within a mulched area in the shape of a tulip poplar leaf – Indiana’s state tree. The educational implications are intentionally subtle; one can count the rings on the seats or tree cookies to discover how old the pieces were when they were cut, use the tree cookies as counters or to visually express mathematical equations, or maybe learn in very basic terms how to engineer a tower of cookies that can stand on its own. Or you can just play. There are natural processes at work that can be observed by way of bugs, fungi, worms and bark that is peeling off the harder, inner wood. Or you can just play.

Tree cookies in the Play Patch.

Tree cookies in the Play Patch.

The point is, playing in this setting, with these elements, can educate someone without them realizing they’re receiving instruction. Early naturalist Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach …” Beautiful thought, Mr. Thoreau, but I would hedge a bet that even if you don’t go to the woods to live deliberately, you are still likely to learn a thing or two before you come out. Maybe it’s a boost in confidence, or hearing a bird call you don’t recognize. Perhaps it’s as monumental as self-discovery or self-expression, or as mundane as being grossed out by a slug. Whatever you learn, it is important to make connections between oneself and the natural world in order to better understand both.

The Play Patch is a small step to achieving this, and the hope is for other Play Patches to spring up around the park featuring different natural elements, such as stone or grasses. Don’t look for one yet on any map; you’ll just have to come discover where they are hidden, in the woods.


Creating an Autoportrait: Patty Schneider

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The sixth in this series features Patty Schneider, the Grounds Supervisor at the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Rather than focus on a common theme, I chose my Autoportrait according to what represents me in broad terms; the numbers are milestones, but the rest are things that characterize pieces of me from this past year.


2: In 2013 I started the second phase of my Horticulture career at the IMA, stepping into the role of Grounds Supervisor for the Art & Nature Park.

08: 2008 was a year of many life changes; I moved to a new city (Indy) two weeks after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, started my dream job as a horticulturist at a public garden, and got married.

The author, Patty (right), and her husband Grant.

The author, Patty (right), and her husband Grant.

574: A milestone I would not have predicted to be that significant at the time. 574 are the first three digits of my very first cell phone. The year was 2002 and it was my junior year of high school … it was a cute little, bright red Kyocera with a cool blue backlit keypad. I never would’ve guessed that a decade later our cell phones would evolve to serve as much purpose as our computers.

Joy: If I were to get a tattoo, it would be with this word … one that I desire to share and emulate no matter what the circumstance. To my thinking, happiness is merely an emotion; joy is a state of mind.

O’Hara: Lake O’Hara is the most breathtakingly beautiful place I’ve ever experienced. It is in Yoho National Park in eastern British Columbia and has limited access in an effort to reduce human impact on its environment. The day we were there we got caught in a brief rain storm, but it only added to the mystical charm to watch the rain approach from across the valley and envelop us. I felt so acutely aware of myself, knowing I was part of that mountain in that moment.

River: My 1-year-old Irish red & white setter. She has surely changed the way my husband and I live our lives, and most DEFINITELY has changed the way I am able to garden!

Green, blue and yellow: Green and blue are my favorite colors. Adding the yellow reminds me of a fall day, my favorite season of the year.


Patty’s Picks: Successful Plants from the Home Garden

In the world of professional horticulture, we are perennially teaching people to put the right plant in the right place.  “I’m sorry, but that just isn’t going to be happy in our heavy clay soils,” is a phrase that plays like a broken record around here, and it can certainly be discouraging to folks who aspire to that fabled green thumb when it comes to finding plants that love making a home in your garden.  The irony is that some things that do well for someone else may inexplicably snub me, and vice versa.  For example, I am pea green with envy that Jim Kincannon has a lovely stand of native Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) in the IMA’s Rain Garden, which dipped a toe into my home garden soil and said, “Poo!”  It’s hard to not take it personally, but instead of moping, I simply squared my shoulders and recruited Little Bluestem BLUE HEAVENTM (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘MinnBlueA’) to join Team Schneider.  Success!  If you ask me why one succeeded and the other didn’t, I won’t have an answer for you; they have almost identical cultural requirements for light, moisture and soil type, and both are Indiana natives.

When it comes to recommending “tried and true” plants, you can see why it can be difficult to give trustworthy advice.  My advice?  To be a successful gardener requires thick skin and a penchant for experimentation.  Did I mention thick skin?  This is not to excuse poor behavior; if you plant something in the perfect spot and then deprive it of a basic need (i.e. water), it won’t be the plant’s fault if it doesn’t do well. I suppose if the experiment is to see just how little work you can get away with, go for it, but I would suggest planning a giant increase in your plant budget to accommodate the yawning gaps that will dot your landscape. As a word to the wise, a plant labeled as “drought tolerant” does not necessarily mean it never needs water (remember the basics – all plants need some spectrum of light, moisture and nutrients).  Establish plants first to give them the best chance to face adversity with a healthy root system. Then, if a plant decides not to commit, with a clear conscience you can honestly accept when it says, “I’m so sorry…it’s not you, it’s me.”

So it is with some hesitation that I share my list of favorite successful plants from my home garden. After all, you may have tried these already and found them to be utter failures, which would be such a shame, because in my garden at home they look GREAT! What I can give you are the parameters of my growing conditions: I started with acceptable clay soils and have added a fair amount of organic matter for the past three years (leaf compost and mulch).  My home was built in the 1920s, so while my soils are not compacted from new construction, I still wanted to add the organics to allow for better water and oxygen penetration to the roots. Drainage is moderate in most areas with a few spots that stay more saturated from heavier clay content. I never use synthetic fertilizers on anything planted in-ground, and while I give plants consistent water the first year they are planted, I am a bit more lax on watering things that have been established unless we are under severe drought conditions like this past summer.  The plants on my current recommended list are ones from my home garden that have survived at least two winters in my clay soils with little to no extra coddling during the growing season.

 Read the rest of this entry »


A Peek at Perennial Premiere Plants

It’s finally here!  Perennial Premiere is this weekend, and I can hardly wait.  In the four years since I started working at the IMA, the perennial plant sale has grown into an event for the whole family, and it’s something I always look forward to.  Every year on this Saturday morning as I’m walking out the door for a day of work inundated with exciting plants my husband always reminds me exactly how much is remaining in my plant budget.  Well, I suppose the next best thing to buying plants for your own garden is sharing your knowledge and excitement with someone else who can grow it in theirs!  There will be many tempting plants this weekend, but I get to share just a few with you that I think are worth getting really excited about.

Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) is a great option for getting a little bit of chartreuse into the landscape without going overboard.  It is a grass-like perennial, similar to a Siberian iris, which prefers a bit of moisture, even having the ability to grow in boggy conditions. If you site this in sun to part shade and in consistently moist soil, it will be a fairly low-maintenance perennial that will spread slowly.  The flowers are pretty insignificant, so grow this one for the lovely, tufted, gold-variegated foliage that will reach about a foot tall and provide a fine-textured accent for bold-leafed perennials.  It could also be quite effective as a groundcover for a smaller area, such as next to a water feature, or used as an accent in a container.  In any garden, Acorus ‘Ogon’ is a very graceful, versatile plant.

Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (in front)

There are many bugelweeds to choose from; all have that great blue flower in the spring and are effective and quick-growing groundcovers.  The one that I’ve been the most impressed with for looking great even after it has finished blooming is Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip,’ and I’m going to be sure to nab a few of these for my own home garden this year!  ‘Chocolate Chip’ is shorter than other bugleweeds at only 2” tall (3-4” with the flower spike), with lovely bronze to deep green foliage that retains its healthy vigor throughout the growing season.  Some of the other Ajugas have flowers that tend to look a bit weedy after blooming, but it has been my observation that ‘Chocolate Chip’ maintains its neat appearance throughout the growing season.  Site this little guy in a sunny or fairly shaded location between stepping stones or as a border edge; it won’t let you down!

Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’, photo courtesy of Classy Groundcovers

Dwarf goat’s beard, Aruncus aethusifolius, is another lovely, compact perennial only reaching about 12” tall.  It has an overall appearance similar to that of Astilbe, but its ferny foliage will not shrivel up and turn crispy brown in the drier spells of summer, allowing the opportunity for a nice yellow-orange leaf color to develop in the fall.  It has white flower plumes in early to mid-summer, and would be a great, underused alternative in shady conditions for those who are looking for a good companion with Hosta, Epimedium or Brunnera.

 Read the rest of this entry »


About Patty

Title: Horticulturalist Interests: Eating, reading, getting to know people, and thinking of outrageous ideas Favorite Movies: It’s got to be intelligent or hilarious. Props if it makes me think AND laugh. Favorite Music: Anything that makes me feel; I need to have a connection with music to fully appreciate it. It can be pretty ambiguous, really… Favorite Food: Cheese, homemade pizza, apple cider, pretzels (especially soft ones) and my grandma’s recipe for homemade ham and bean soup. Yum! Something Extra: I have an opinion about everything, but I usually keep it to myself. Does that make me a wuss or just polite? I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, which was pretty much the best thing ever. Also, my first love is being out in the boonies. If I weren’t so social, I think I’d be a hermit somewhere in the Cascades.

Patty has written 10 articles for us.