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Flowers: Still life and still living

Two IMA staff members – Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, and Irvin Etienne, horticulturist – look at the IMA’s Flowers in a Glass Vase by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger. Both see beauty and history.

Ambrosius Bosschaert the younger (Dutch, 1609-1645), "Flowers in a Glass Vase," about 1635 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10008

Ambrosius Bosschaert the younger (Dutch, 1609-1645), “Flowers in a Glass Vase,” about 1635
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10008

One of the treasures of the Clowes Collection, Flowers in a Glass Vase  (c. 1630) by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger captures the Dutch passion for still life with impeccable precision. Flower still lifes had begun to appear in the Dutch Republic around 1600 and were highly prized for their ability to preserve the fleeting beauty of the natural world. Ambrosius’s father pioneered the genre in the Dutch city of Middelburg, which contained some of the most comprehensive flower gardens in the land.

In spite of the almost scientific rendering of the blossoms and animals, the artist likely worked from drawn or painted models in his studio. The sand lizard (in the lower left corner), for example, appears in two other paintings (private collection and private collection), and variations of the tulips (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and nigella (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) also appear in his work. The use of such aides in the studio, however, should not detract from our admiration of the skillful way in which Ambrosius employed them to create a sense of volume in the bouquet. His arrangement of the vibrant pinks and yellows among the most forward extending flowers at the left and center, and his placement in the upper half of the deeper blues and crimsons for the blossoms that recede in the composition, demonstrate his ability to create a “chiaroscuro of hue,” in the words of flower painting specialist Paul Taylor.

Two of the species depicted here had arrived only recently in the Netherlands, which reminds us that the Dutch brought back a variety of exotica from foreign lands. The fritillary had been imported from Turkey in the 1570s, while the tulip – the quintessential Dutch flower today – was introduced about 20 years earlier from Persia via Turkey. The distinctive striping on the tulips, which could range from yellow to red to purple and which was the result of a virus, made the flower so attractive that a veritable “tulipmania” developed in the early 1630s. During this speculation crisis, a single bulb could be sold for as much as 13,000 guilders. That two such flowers appear prominently in Bosschaert’s painting attests to his awareness of their visual and financial worth.

Botanists and collectors of flowers cultivated colorful gardens for study in the 17th century, and they sometimes exchanged “portraits” of individual flowers that were particularly valued. These images may have contributed to the development of the painted bouquet as an independent genre. Here in Indianapolis, we are fortunate to have Bosschaert’s painting in the museum and the beautiful specimens on the grounds to admire!

— Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow

The first thing that strikes me in this painting is the use of flowers that do not bloom at the same time – at least not in this part of the world. The second thing that strikes me is how some of those flowers have changed because of breeding efforts by many people over the centuries while others have changed little. Since this is spring I am going to concentrate on a few that traditionally bloom in spring around these parts.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

One of our great harbingers of the end of winter are snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis. Some years you can find these blooming in February if it is mild. In the worst winters they will start in March. I’ve watched these here at the IMA for over 20 years now and I am still as excited as ever to discover them in bloom. We have large swaths of them in the woods and in the some of the gardens but really just a small clump of two is worth having. Since this is a small bulb and plant

Snowdrops (detail)

Snowdrops (detail)

you can make room for a few no matter what size your garden is. My picture is of the straight species but snowdrop enthusiasts have selected or bred many varieties including doubles and perhaps the most desirable of all: flowers where the little green spots shown below are replaced with yellow spots. I will have a yellow one someday.


Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Hyacinths, Hyacinthus orientalis, bring not only color to the spring landscape but delightful fragrance as well. Over time, the individual flowers have become larger and more tightly packed on the flower stalk. Breeders have developed many colors and double flowered forms. It seems to me these tend to be short lived. Or at least they slowly decline in the garden while I have seen plants along some of our less maintained paths that have survived for decades. I think we may kill them with kindness. As in planting them in a garden bed that gets irrigated in summer. Interesting note in hyacinths are in the same family as another great spring plant – asparagus.

Queen of the Night (left) and Black Hero (right).

Queen of the Night (left) and Black Hero (right).

Tulips. Talk about a flower that has changed over the years! The tulip started as a simple little thing, became a sensation that destroyed fortunes, and still holds a major place in modern gardening. You can still find species types for sale but most of us gravitate to the large wonderfully gaudy hybrids. Other than true blue, just about every color can be found in this group of plants. Many flower forms exist. In addition to the traditional type there are lily-flowered, fringed, and doubles. Here are some “black” tulips in Nonie’s Garden right now. The single ‘Queen of the Night’ and its double form, ‘Black Hero’.


Johnny jump-ups

Like the tulips, pansies have changed considerably. Unlike the tulip, I don’t think pansies destroyed anybody’s fortune. Again what started as a simple little flower has become a family of flowers that covers almost every color and comes in a plethora of sizes. Whether pansies or violas or Johnny jump-ups, they are all in the genus Viola. Plus there are several perennial and Indiana native species. With most of the plants we buy as spring annuals the dividing line is small flowered plants are sold as violas and the large flowered plants are sold as pansies. All are good plants. Johnny jump-ups have been around forever and you can get them to this day.

Frizzle Sizzle

Frizzle Sizzle

Or if you prefer you can get these Frizzle Sizzle pansies with huge ruffled petals that would do a Scarlet O’Hara gown proud.

Pansies are one of the tough annuals that can handle frost so it is a natural for the spring garden. Breeding has increased the heat tolerance so they last longer and longer. If you plant them in partial shade you may have plants live all summer that put on another big show in fall.

— Irvin Etienne, Horticultural Display Coordinator

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


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.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, Horticulture, IMA Staff


Gotta get a little dirt on your hands

Well folks, here I am after being gone for a spell. My last posting was back in June and you all may be wondering as to the why, what for, and so on of my absence. Well, it’s complicated and in many ways hard to explain so let’s get started.

For this week I decided to look at some of the plants we are adding in 2014. I could go on and on about the weather and this winter but hell, it’s been done. Maybe later.

I am doing a major renovation of the Tunnel planting. These are the plants on top of the tunnel leading from the parking garage to the main museum building. It has the paperbark maples and useless skylights that you hopefully notice on your above-ground walk to the museum entrance. The maples I mean, not the useless skylights. Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is my favorite tree so I always notice them.

The perennial layer in this area has some Echinacea Big Sky Sundown™ (‘Evan Saul’) and many many self-sown children and grandchildren of Sundown, a few Geranium Roseanne (‘Gerwat’), several Sedum ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Matrona’, a few Agastache. I will say that the ItSaul Plants bred Sundown has been the toughest “fancy” Echinacea to date for me but the whole area needs a major reboot after a decade or so.

I am putting some Echinacea back in. I’m going with what I have heard described as the reddest one currently on the market – Sombrero™ Salsa Red (‘Balsomsred’). I have seen this and it is a beauty. Here are some photos from Boston in 2012.

Sombrero™ Salsa Red (Balsomsred)

Sombrero™ Salsa Red (Balsomsred)

Salsa Red grows to 24 to 26 inches tall. I so want to say to around 2 feet and be done with it. I mean, I’m all about exactitudes. Don’t get me wrong. But let’s get real. For a design, guess about 2 feet and run with it. I want easy viewing of the fountain for passers-by so this height will work nicely. Plant spread should be about one and a half feet (16 to 22 inches).

This is part of the Sombero™ series from Darwin Plants that includes yellows, orange and coral so if you prefer a different color in your garden there may be one you will like. I am definitely deadheading to prevent seedlings. It is a lovely thought to leave seedheads for the birds but I can assure you the birds do not eat all the seeds and you soon have garden full of plants that look far more like the species Echinaceas than your red or orange or double hybrid (see above). It won’t take long for you to have a garden of mixed plants evolving (or de-volving) farther and farther from your fancy originals each year. I would suggest you have a separate planting for feeding the birds.

Echinacea ‘Marmalade’. Photo courtesy Chris Handon.

Echinacea ‘Marmalade’. Photo courtesy Chris Hansen.

I’m also putting in some Echinacea ‘Marmalade’ cause I can’t stand to go another year without it. Thank you, Plants Nouveau, for this introduction.

The National Gardening Bureau has declared 2014 the Year of the Echinacea. I can get behind that. You can go to their website for a very nice history of Echinacea and dozens of photographs. Definitely check them out.

Kniphofia 'Mango Popsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’


Every year I seem to become a bigger fan of Kniphofia, the red-hot pokers. Plant breeders have increased the bloom time on these considerably while also making them tougher. Many new cultivars will bloom June to October with the heaviest flower production in the first couple months. I am repeating Patty’s near-by selection, ‘Mango Popsicle’. This Terra Nova introduction is a blooming machine in a gorgeous shade of – what else? – mango. It almost glows. Love this plant. L-O-V-E!

Those were tiny plugs when they went in the ground last Spring. They came as 72s – that means 72 plants in a 9X18 tray. Kniphofias want good drainage and especially so in winter. Full sun gives you the best performance. Deadhead as individual stalks finish. That keeps the nice clumps of spiky foliage looking neater.

Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist'

Phlox paniculata ‘Peppermint Twist’


I’m a big fan of Phlox paniculata for their long period of bloom in summer, usually early July into early September at a minimum. It’s also one of the plants that has performed best in the tough environment of the Mall. I’ve had ‘Peppermint Twist’ at home for a couple years and love the color and the pattern of the blooms so I’m adding it this year.

Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist'

Phlox paniculata ‘Peppermint Twist’


I’ve not noticed any mildew as of yet. With phlox you can never be certain of absolute immunity from this foliar scourge but by selecting resistant plants you greatly reduce the amount that shows up on your plants. Rarely is any cultivar immune 100 percent of the time but just because one has it this year does not mean it will next year. ‘Peppermint Twist’ is around 3 feet tall and I would space small plants about a foot apart, larger ones 18 inches. I have had reversion on mine at home but love the solid color as well.

In the Northeast Border Garden, Gwyn is doing some rehab work and adding new plants. Including Helleborus x hybridus ‘Sunshine Ruffles’, a member of Chris Hansen’s Winter Thrillers™ series. ‘Sunshine Ruffles’ is a double yellow with some red picotee on each “petal.”

Helleborus x hybridus; L-R: Sunshine Ruffles, Red Racer, Grape Galaxy. Photo courtesy Chris Hansen.

Helleborus x hybridus; L-R: Sunshine Ruffles, Red Racer, Grape Galaxy. Photo courtesy Chris Hansen.

We won’t see blooms this year, but next year the show should begin. I really like the pictures of these so if they are that beautiful I may steal them from Gwyn and put them in one of my areas. We already have a couple cultivars from this series we planted last year. Look for ‘Red Racer’ and ‘Grape Galaxy’ in the Southwest Border Garden as they should bloom nicely this year.

Helleborus x ballardiae HGC® Pink Frost

Helleborus x ballardiae HGC® Pink Frost

Katie is adding to our Helleborus Gold Collection® with some more Helleborus x ballardiae ‘HGC® Pink Frost’ (my favorite).

The “HGC® Pink Frost’ and ‘HGC® Cinnamon Snow’ plants have the heaviest flower production of all the hellebores on the property. They also have some of the best foliage with some silver gray and burgundy on the early leaves. Future years will hopefully see more cultivars from this collection in the gardens. Remember, hellebores are deer proof AND shade loving. You can’t say both those things about hostas.

Scent First® Pot Coral Reef

Scent First® Pot Coral Reef


The Cutting Garden has slowly lost perennials so I am adding some new plants. There is a ton of Dianthus hitting the market right now. I decided to try one of the new ones from Whetman Pinks in the UK and introduced to the US market by PlantHaven. The cultivar I chose is ‘WPO7OLDRICE’. You may better remember the cultivar name of Scent First® Pot Coral Reef and for our purposes here I will shorten it to Coral Reef.

As the full name implies, these were bred for scent. Coral Reef has 1 to  1.5-inch double coral flowers with a white piccotee edge on each petal and a spicy fragrance. Repeat bloom and glaucous blue-green foliage helped to get Coral Reef a spot in the garden. Heaviest bloom will be in spring and deadheading will help in insuring that reblooming habit. It was also bred for pot or container use so it is a very compact 9x 9-inch plant with flowering stems rising to about 12 inches. The resulting cut stems will be best used in small arrangements or tucked amongst larger cuts I suppose.

Digitalis Goldcrest (‘WALDIGONE’)

Digitalis Goldcrest (‘WALDIGONE’)

More foxgloves are being introduced that are true perennials. The foxglove one traditionally finds is the biennial Digitalis purpurea. For a long time it seemed all one could find in perennial foxgloves were strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis, a hybrid of D. grandiflora and D. purpurea) and the yellow flowered foxgloves (Digitalis lutea & D. grandiflora). Fine plants, but one desires something fresh for the garden. Jim is introducing Digitalis Goldcrest (‘WALDIGONE’) to the Southwest Border Garden.

This 18 inch hybrid (D. grandiflora x D. obscura) is sterile so it sends all that energy normally reserved for seed production into flower production from early summer into fall. That is considerably longer than the bloom period on traditional foxgloves to say the least. It is another PlantHaven introduction.

We all want perennials with long bloom time so when cultivars are developed or found that extend the color show we are quick to add them to the garden. If that plant also earns a 4.5 star rating from the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Plant Evaluation Program then you definitely want it! Such is the case with Veronica spicata ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf’ which Chad is putting in the Garden for Everyone this year.

Deadheading will keep this purple-blue speedwell blooming from mid-June to mid-September. Now, they won’t have flowers every day as the new buds need time to develop. So don’t get yourself all worked up if there is a week or two with no flowers. ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf’ is only about a foot tall when in flower (dwarf!) with a spread just a little wider. Blue is an oft sought color in the garden so a perennial with its extended bloom is most welcome. The low stature of ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf’ sort of relegates it to the front of the border but that purple-blue color can go with almost every other flowering plant you may have near it be they red, orange, yellow, pink, red, or other shades of blue/purple. That sort of versatility is great to work with.

Royal Candles (‘Glory’)

Royal Candles (‘Glory’); Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

I could not secure a decent photo of ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf,’ but another Veronica spicata we are adding is Royal Candles (‘Glory’).

Royal Candles is larger at 18 inches tall. I suspect colors of the two are very similar since Royal Candles is called dark purple while ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf’ is purple blue. We planted some ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf’ last year at Westerley but I cannot for the life of me picture the bloom.

I almost forgot. Royal candles earned a very solid four-star rating in the CBG trials.

I’ve touched on but a few of the new plants going into the IMA Gardens in 2014, and only perennials at that. There will be new annuals, grasses, trees, and shrubs as well, comingling with our already tried and true selections.

Okay, I am way over the suggested 300 to 700 words. No wonder it takes so much time for me to write these things. Time to quit on this and get outside. It’s sunny and headed for the 50s today. Gotta get a little dirt on my hands.

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



Hmmm. March 1. I don’t know you can call today “coming in like a lamb,” nor do I really see it as “coming in like a lion.” After all, 30s and some snow aren’t so freakish for March 1. But it is hardly sunny and 40s either. Maybe it doesn’t really matter what March comes in as. Maybe what really matters is that March comes. The weather may not sing “SPRING” but the calendar does a little trickery on the mind and I believe it is spring (despite three more weeks of official winter). There’s just something about March arriving that says you’ve made it. You survived another winter. You didn’t get put out on the ice floe. Wolves didn’t chew through the front door and drag you to their den for a January dinner date. Little things like that.

March is also the time of year when I am most likely to start losing plants that I am overwintering in my office. They’ve been here since late October, held on through November, December, January and February, but now are almost screaming “I can’t freaking take it anymore!” They work so hard to make it on limited light and my lackluster watering schedule. Eventually some of them simply say to hell with it. And that is okay. Actually they look better than usual this year. Don’t know I can say the same about the ones in my basement at home. I tend to throw the poor things down there and shut the door, only taking a cursory glance when I’m forced to go to the basement for something else. I’m a bad horticulturist. I should probably be spanked. But the majority of the plants usually make it and before you know it REAL spring is here and they and I almost break into song.

Despite my dislike of winter this year……. Okay. I know. At some point I dislike winter every year. But this year I knew early I would not like it, and despite fairly mild weather, it has felt bitter cold. Let’s start again.

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Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Horticulture


Changing of the Seasons

The start of fall always seems to creep up with early sunsets, cool nights, and the changing of the leaves. One of my recent photo assignments here at the IMA was to document the Fall Equinox: Hungry Ghost event.  I knew there would be great photo opportunities because of the beautiful weather and long evening shadows. This year’s activities included lantern making and music by members of Butler University’s Orchestra. The musicians played their instruments while in canoes and on the land surrounding the lake in 100 Acres.

As the sunlight faded, the music started and the lanterns were lit. The large crowd gathered on the south side of the lake to watch the lanterns be released. Some had messages written on them to honor a “ghost” such as, “We miss you Grandpa,” while others were decorated with colorful illustrations. I documented this animated GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)as the lanterns were being launched into the blue night.

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Photography, Public Programs


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