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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.

101714_lindera_angustifolia

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 highcountrygardens.com)

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.

101714_hosta_curve

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

Divide and conquer: Creating new queendoms

What’s a beekeeper to do when fall is around the corner, winter mortality is unnervingly high, and you’ve got just one hive? Make new queens, of course! (Right … just like that!)

I’ve been helping Chad Franer, Director of Horticulture, keep bees at the IMA for six years and every season we both learn something new. This year, we tried our hands at splitting the hive – our one and only hive that we purchased in the spring. Did we know what we were doing? Of course not!

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Splitting the hive to force the production of queen cells felt a lot like moving from the freshmen level course to somewhere with the upperclassmen. It was one of those moments where we felt the training wheels coming off and it was time to ride or fall. After much instruction from our mentor, Brian Shattuck, we took on the challenge.

A healthy honeybee hive is composed of the queen, worker bees (female), drones (male) and brood (future bees). The queen will lay an average of 1,000 to 1,500 eggs per day, all the while producing a pheromone that communicates to the rest of the hive that she is present and thriving. The daily egg laying, referred to as the brood cycle, ensures a constant and strong colony. When a hive becomes robust, the beekeeper may have the option to split it.

Splitting the hive means moving the queen, along with a few handfuls of workers and brood, to another hive box and leaving the majority of the original hive intact and in need of a queen.

What happens next is pretty fascinating! The colony notices the absence of the queen and begins to prep several of the recently hatched eggs to potentially become the next queen. These select larvae are fed royal jelly and larger cells are constructed for them each to develop within. Then it’s a race to see who will emerge first and survive. A new queen, in her due diligence, will systematically kill off the other potential queens as they emerge. Once her position is secured, she takes her mating flight and returns to the hive to pick up where the last queen left off. Voila! The beekeeper now has two hives!

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Brian encouraged us to also create a nuc (short for nucleus) around this time. A nuc is a mini version of an official hive. Midway through the splitting process, we opened up the original hive and removed a frame that contained a few queen cells, dropped it into a nuc box along with a starter kit, frames of honey, brood and room to start laying eggs, for the soon-to-emerge queen. We beekeepers now have three hives!

So, why go through this effort when we’ve got a strong, healthy hive? I guess I could argue that it’s part of proper beekeeping. We’re making certain that we go into winter with more bees and two new, fresh queens. Winters can be long and hard in Indiana and our honeybees need all the resources we can offer to ensure survival – survival into the next spring and for years and generations to come.

The training wheels are long gone and we’re a little bit wiser. Can we claim now that we know what we’re doing? Probably not! I’ll always be a gardener first and beekeeping is a bonus. But I couldn’t be a gardener without the bees. Each day that I work in the gardens of the IMA and I see my tiny worker friends, I thank them for their diligent pollination … and their sweet honey!

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

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.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Education, IMA Staff

 

Fragrant Sumac

Photo by Audra Franz Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Photo by Audra Franz
Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Fragrant sumac serves as a good groundcover, spreading both outwards and upwards, and providing great fall color to any area. This groundcover can also grow into a small shrub, spreading to 6 to 10 feet in width and 2 to 6 feet in height. This can happen in a variety of places as the plant likes a variety of light; just do not place it in a full shade location. It will also do well in a variety of soils although it prefers well-drained soils. The best soil type for great fall color is dry and poor (sandy and/or rocky). Fragrant Sumac is hardy to Zone 3 and is native to the eastern United States as well as some of the southern states. All of these characteristics make Rhus aromatica a great plant for naturalized areas, informal hedges, stabilizing embankments, and poor soil sites.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) consists of leaves of three that are smaller than those of poison ivy. The two plants are closely related yet the fragrant sumac is not poisonous. The trifoliate leaves are up to 3 inches in length and are toothed. Fall color consists of reds, purples, and oranges. Regardless of whether you get to enjoy the fall color, crush the leaves and/or stems to release the strong spicy scent of the plant, giving it its name, fragrant sumac. Galls can be spotted on the leaves sometimes, but there is usually no major concern for insects or pests to the fragrant sumac.

Flowers usually occur in March and April, with there being both male and female flowers. The male catkins are one inch long and begin to form in late summer, lasting at least into winter. (They can be seen in the photo below, alongside the berries). The female flowers consist of the typical small flower buds. Both the male and female flowers can be found on the same plant (monoecious) or be on different plants (dioecious). Hairy red drupes (berries) will begin to show in late summer, forming in clusters. Wildlife is attracted to these drupes. Also, a tea has been made from these fruits, which some say tastes like lemonade.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Besides tea, the plant has been used by humans for centuries. At one point, the root was used in a medicine to help treat diarrhea, as well as the bark and drupes in medicinal items. Poultices were created from both the bark and the leaves. Tanning of leather involved tannin from the leaves and bark. This tannin was also used for dyes.

Next time you visit the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, be sure to make a stop at the Park of the Laments to see just how well the Rhus aromatica is filling in the space. Crush the leaves to catch its strong aromatic scent. And notice how this species of plant is in a tough spot. There really is no shade for it and it is on a sloping incline. Also, it is surrounded by gabion baskets, meaning less area for roots to spread as the soil is in a contained area. Water will drain easily from the rocks and will not be held in except what the soil catches, making for a well-drained site.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

A place to contemplate

Guest blogger Karen Bower has been a docent at the IMA since 2008.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

The entrance beckons. What is up there? After the walls of cobbly rocks caged in wire you see a dark tunnel. What is this place?

Park of the Laments is the largest public, permanent monument, or “intervention,” by Alfredo Jaar in the United States. The form of the park is a square within a square. One square is rigid and made of limestone-filled gabion baskets. Jaar has said the rough, crumbled limestone is a beautiful metaphor for people who have suffered in the past. The second square, soft and organic, is made of indigenous trees and plants. With walls of green and a ceiling of blue sky this center square becomes a relational art project – a place to escape to and meditate.

As an IMA docent who took many children to the Park of the Laments, I came to expect the squeals of the children’s voices testing the space as we walked through the dark tunnel approaching the light. Preparing the children for the tunnel was important to the tour. We approached an opening with dense shrubs on both sides and a staircase to climb. What will we see next? What is this place? I can see the sky and trees and hear the birds and sit on the wooden bench going all around.

On that hot day in June 2010 when the IMA opened the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, I was lucky enough to meet the artist. “Oh, Mr. Jaar, you are here today! You get to see our visitors experience your new work!” Jaar approached me and said, “My work – it is too depressing,” referring to his intent of remembering those who have suffered in our world: refugees, victims of genocide. But I reassured the artist. A place to meditate and purge our thoughts of atrocities is necessary.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

But how did this Park within the Park begin? Eight works were selected from 60 international artists in a formal bid proposal process to bring new site-responsive works to the new park. Alfredo Jaar was the last to bring his design proposal to the IMA. He had walked around in 100 Acres. It seemed immense to him. How could he respond? The final result is a space of human scale and proportion within the larger landscape. The cobble or rocks can represent lost souls, or not. The vine-covered walls can seem ruin-like or constructed with the idea of porosity – rain water trickling through. Your experience of the space and entering it will be your own. It is intimate and public at the same time. Many visitors feel a hush upon reaching the top of the stairs. Children run and play. Docents invite visitors to use their senses, to become mindful of what they hear and smell, to feel the air. We ask you to describe what you see or what you would name the space.

This is considered one of Jaar’s public “interventions” that memorializes military conflicts, political corruption and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Hence, the artist’s concern about the public’s reaction to his work on that opening day.

Jaar describes Park of the Laments as a refuge, a place where we can think and dream of what could be. Here in Indianapolis visitors definitely do not find it too depressing.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Contemporary, Guest Bloggers

 

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