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Lilies in bloom

Now that it is officially summertime, I can begin to look forward to seeing all of the colorful combinations of lilies. From 12 inches tall to 7 feet tall, lilies know how to steal the show. More than 80 species provide a variety of colors, heights, and bloom times to choose from. Whether they bloom at the beginning of the summer to welcome you to warm weather, or late fall to say farewell until warm weather returns the next year. With so many different species and hybrids, the North American Lily Society has developed eight divisions to help classify them based on parentage, as well as the position and shape of the flower. The different divisions of hybrids are as follows: Asiatic, Martagon, Candidum, American, Longiflorum, Trumpet and Aurelian, Oriental, and Miscellaneous. I want to focus more on the Asiatic and Oriental lilies because they are the more popular hybrids.

Looking around the grounds at the IMA or anywhere else that you may be visiting, you will notice that the most commonly used lilies are Asiatic Hybrids and Oriental Hybrids. Asiatic lilies are one of the earliest to bloom as well as easy to grow. They can grow in almost any soil type just as long as there is no excess moisture that would cause the bulb to rot or acquire a disease. Orientals need a soil that is high in organic material as well as a low pH. Oriental lilies are easily distinguished from the Asiatic hybrids because they are taller, have larger flowers that are more fragrant as well as having wider leaves. Asiatics and Orientals are more popular because they are less susceptible to acquiring a number of troublesome diseases.

Since the beginning of their cultivation, lilies have acquired fungal diseases, basal rots and viruses that distort the plant. What I find interesting about the lilies is that, in medieval times, the bulbs were used for medicinal purposes. Lily bulbs were used to try to cure, or at least diminish the affects of ulcers, scurvy, dropsy and corns. Although using the bulbs for medicines sounds like a good idea, I would prefer to keep them in the ground so I can see and smell the lilies they produce.

When it comes time to choosing which type of lily to grow in your garden or to put in a centerpiece at a wedding, it is best to see and smell them in person before making a decision. Some lilies have a very strong scent, and some have no scent at all. When choosing for the garden, height and color have to be taken into account as well as scent. Though for some, scent may be an afterthought if their garden is already filled with plenty of sweet fragrances. Having lilies indoors is the tricky part for some. When hosting a wedding reception or any other gathering where lilies are in the centerpiece, it may be a wise decision to choose one with little to no scent. It all depends on personal preference. Some really like the fragrance lilies give off while others may despise it. Whatever your preference, it is always an enjoyable experience seeing these large and brightly colorful flowers throughout the gardens. To start off your garden tour at the IMA, stop in to the Garden for Everyone to see the tall yellow Orienpets (combination of the Oriental with the Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids), Lilium ‘Yelloween’, as well as the shorter Orienpets, Lilium ‘Algarve’. As you continue your tour it would be hard to miss any other outstanding lilies.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture, Oldfields


The Real Deal

Baptisia is often called false indigo. I fail to see how remembering false indigo is easier than remembering baptisia (and I don’t care if you pronounce it bap-tees-ee-a, bapteesha, or bap-tis-ee-a). I suppose one could say calling baptisia false indigo ties it back to its historical use as a substitute for true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) that was THE dye for blue fabric until synthetic dyes took over. You will also find baptisia listed as wild indigo sometimes.

Traditionally, we have used Baptisia australis as an ornamental. Its deep blue flowers and tough-as-nails disposition have earned it a place in gardens for a long, long time. Occasionally you might find one of the white flowered species, on rare occasions the bright yellow B. sphaerocarpa.

Two factors have changed how often these plants are used today, which is much more often than in the past. One is the increased interest in native plants. All baptisias are North American natives with four native to Indiana. Many gardeners want more natives in their landscapes and the baptisias provide beautiful tough plants for this. This beauty comes not only from the flowers but also from the attractive disease and insect free foliage and seed pods which turn dark gray/black when they ripen. The larger types act as shrubs in the landscape until late fall/early winter.

The other factor that has increased the use of baptisias is the hybridizing work done by multiple plant breeders. The first commonly available hybrid was ‘Purple Smoke’, a cross of B. australis and B. alba. This was just a chance seedling in the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Probably the second available hybrid was ‘Carolina Moonlight’, a yellow flowered plant from the same cross. Both cultivars present their flowers well above the foliage increasing their ornamental value.

It was not long before breeders saw the potential of this genus and work to create more hybrids went into overdrive. Dr. Jim Ault and the Chicago Botanic Garden introduced the PRAIRIEBLUES™ series and Walters Gardens introduced the DECADENCE® series by Hans Hansen a few years later. Both of these series involve multiple baptisia species. I should say the two I mention are not the only people working on baptisias. They do have the most hybrids on the market and the most readily available currently.

So many hybrid cultivars are available now but I can still remember when we first ordered ‘Purple Smoke’ for the Formal Garden. The plants were so small and cost so much it was like one almost felt guilty buying them. They were well worth the investment. Few perennials will give you so many months of ornamental value for so many years.

I also want to mention Baptisia sphaerocarpa ‘Screamin’ Yellow’ even though we don’t have it here at the IMA (though it and many of these may be available for purchase at our Greenhouse).This is a smaller plant than some of the hybrids but I love the name and the bright yellow flowers. The seedpods in this species turn tan and are round (sphaero – round/spherical, carpa – fruit). The cultivar is supposed to bloom heavier than the species.

Sources often say do not disturb baptisia once established, however my personal experience suggests you can dig and divide without too much worry. Admittedly I dealt with plain B. australis but that plant was dug then sat outside for a week or two before I got around to dividing it. I made a lot of plants from the mother-clump and all did fine. I would definitely do dividing in fall or early spring (don’t leave the plant laying around like I did) with my preference being spring as soon as you see shoots poking through the soil.

Below are some photos of our baptisias blooming in the Gardens right now.  As you can see there is nothing false about them. They’re the real deal.


Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Oldfields


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


Plant buying time!

Despite some snow early in the week spring seems to be here. On Saturday it was 77 and sunny. As sunny as the blooms on my Magnolia ‘Butterflies’.

On Tuesday it was 26 and snowy. Even my blue balls were covered with it.


Yup. That’s pretty much April around these parts. Wednesday morning brought upper 20s again and I think some frozen tender young foliage.

But by the end of the week we returned to pretty nice spring weather. Just as the last month or so of winter tends to take out the plants tucked away in the basement you have been trying to save, April takes out the gardeners that just don’t have the muster. Those of us that have gardened awhile know April can be kind or cruel depending on its whims. We relish when it is perfection. We steel ourselves against its hatefulness when it is less than perfect. And we are always ready to start the new season regardless of which April we are dealing with.

Of course, working at the IMA means one of my favorite parts of each new season is Perennial Premiere. It is next Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27. Back when it was 14 below and there was a foot of snow on the ground, I thought this celebration of spring would never appear. While the Greenhouse carries plants year round, this is when the perennials become available along with some woody plants and certainly the colorful tender plants. A list of many of them is available here.

This week, I am going to cover a few I am especially smitten with, some I have grown and some that are tempting me.


Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst Dream’

Now, everyone pretty much knows I like gaudy plants and good-gawd-almighty! plants. Those are nearly always my first choice. Go gaudy or go home. But once in awhile I Iike something a little simpler or something that actually looks like its catalogue description. Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst Dream’ is such a plant.

Regular Centaurea montana (mountain bluet) is a delightful spring bloomer with gorgeous true blue flowers. It self sows but not invasively and seedlings are easy to remove. ‘Amethyst Dream’ really is amethyst colored. I was sure it would not be. Other than color it is like the straight species, except I’ve only had one or two seedings. Amazingly they were identical to the mother plant.

And now back to the more gaudy side of the garden. Aralia ‘Sun King’ is bright and bold. The chartreuse/yellow foliage has dramatic texture as well with the leaves large and divided.


Aralia ‘Sun King’. Courtesy

Aralia ‘Sun King’

Normally it grows to about 4’ x 4’ but if you have ideal conditions it might reach 6’. There are some white flowers in summer but you are growing this for the foliage, folks. It likes a good soil that does not dry out too much. On the other hand do not leave your plant sitting in a bowl of water for a week or more because it will drown. Trust me on this one, okay? ‘Sun King’ prefers part to full shade but I think best growth will be in less dense shade. The foliage color could be an echo for some hostas (yellow or yellow variegated) while the texture would provide a nice contrast to the same hostas’ foliage. If you do not feel you have room for Aralia ‘Sun King’, then kill one of your hostas. It’s alright. I give you permission. Okay. Okay. Don’t kill it. Give it to your cousin Muffy. Just get rid of the damn thing so you can plant something new.

Heuchera villosa ‘Brioche’ Courtesy

Heuchera villosa ‘Brioche’

I love Heuchera villosa. It has proven itself time and again as not only beautiful but super tough as well. ‘Caramel’ with its gorgeous amber and copper foliage remains my favorite heuchera. We’ve used the cultivar Autumn Bride multiple times in the landscape here as well as the purple forms a couple times. ‘Bronze Wave’ can be found outside the Deer Zink Special Events Pavilion. This year, ‘Binoche’ will make its first appearance at Perennial Premiere. I am thinking seriously of adding this to my home garden. It is a seedling of the beautiful and strong ‘Frosted Violet’ which is a villosa hybrid. ‘Brioche’ is a smoky chocolate color with very nice ruffling to the leaves. I have only seen it in pictures but they are tempting enough to make me buy it.

A bit of a trend showing up in perennials is selections that are first-year flowering from seed. Meaning you can plant the seed and get flowers in the same year. Two salvias in this group are ‘New Dimension Blue’ and ‘New Dimension Rose’. To be honest, pink salvias have never gotten me too excited because they are always more lavender-pink. Not my favorite color. But really, I tend to be the minority in that. And ‘New Dimension Pink’ seems to have pretty good pink color.

‘New Dimension Blue’ is a rich blue-violet.

Salvia ‘New Dimension Pink’ (left) and ‘New Dimension Blue’ (right) Courtesy

Salvia ‘New Dimension Pink’ (left) and ‘New Dimension Blue’ (right)

The advantage both of these have is the stems and calyces are darker versions of the flower color making the flower color richer and giving color after the actual flowers fade. Plus both rebloom in fall if cut back after the first bloom. These will probably be under a foot when purchased but in their second year of growth will get to be around 15 inches.

I am a firm believer in using non-hardy plants in the garden. You may know about that as much as you know I love gaudy. They add a great deal to the landscape whether you use tons, like I do at home, or you just add a few for a touch of color. The Greenhouse is carrying two of my favorites, Canna ‘Stuttgart’ and Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’. You may choose to dig these in the fall and save or you may choose to leave them in the ground to more than likely die. Plants like these are not so expensive that you MUST DIG them. You get six months of wonder and delight for your dollars and that is a hell of a good deal. If you feel like digging them — dig them. If you do not feel like digging them — don’t.

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’ is part of the Karma Series, all of which make excellent cut flowers in addition to being beautiful in the garden. I do not understand why they did not call this one Chocolate instead of Choc. It is a rich sultry shade of chocolate-burgundy. I love the color. ‘Karma Choc’ can go with most any color including gray and blue foliaged plants. A handful of these in a bouquet with green zinnias or gladioli would be HOT! Plants grow to around 4’ tall and the long stems do make great cuts. Flowers should come from early summer through fall. Once the plants are hit by frost you can make your decision on digging them.

I once paid $100 for a pot of Canna ‘Stuttgart’. And killed it the first winter. So obviously do not cry to me about how a tender plant costing $XX is too expensive. You’d be too beneath me on this one. Only a year or two later it was available wholesale for $14. ‘Stuttgart’ has a stunning grey-green and white color pattern. The degree of variegation is a bit different on each leaf. Do not plant it in full sun like one usually does with cannas. That white will brown and crisp like bacon in a cast iron skillet. Morning sun is fine. Excellent soil, nice and rich and moist, will allow you to push the sun exposure somewhat. I’ve had this plant happy enough to grow to close to 8’ tall with the bloom even higher. A sport of ‘Omega’, ‘Stuttgart’ has small peachy flowers that are quite lovely. I had it to survive in the ground during one of our recent zone 7/8 winters, but I dug some of it too that year. This one I potted up in some barely moist potting mix. I think its rhizomes tend to dry out over winter and I don’t want to risk losing it. It is a vigorous grower once in the ground. ‘Stuttgart’ remains one of my favorite cannas even though out first experience together wasn’t exactly positive. I wonder how many other people gave Tony Avent a hundred dollars for that plant? You want to see one? Buy one.

Take a look at plant list online but remember, NOT ALL of the plants available at this year’s Perennial Premiere are included. And perhaps most importantly, new stuff will be coming in almost weekly. But you would be a fool to miss that opening weekend. Don’t be a fool. I will point at you and say nasty things about you. Really. I will. Especially when you complain that something you wanted is out of stock.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff, Oldfields


Perennial Premiere prospectus

Our horticulture staff are waiting for you!

Our horticulture staff are waiting for you!

After the brutal winter Mother Nature sent us this year, I am wondering if we’ll have a Stravinsky spring! But regardless of the weather, the path to a wonderful growing season starts by attending the fifth annual expanded Perennial Premiere Plant Sale on Saturday, April 26 and Sunday, April 27. This annual salute to spring will have something for everyone’s gardening style: from traditional-in-ground gardens to container terrarium and bonsai gardens. Whether you are a novice planning your first ever garden, or a long-time gardener looking for some new inspiration, our trained staff of horticulturists will be present to help you choose plants for your individual site and lifestyle.

You can sign up for an IMA membership on-site!

You can sign up for an IMA membership on-site!

IMA Member Preview Hours are 9 to 11 am on Saturday, and members will receive a 20 percent discount on all Greenhouse purchases through May 4. Not an IMA member? Not a problem! You can join on-the-spot and immediately begin taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity to have ‘first pick’ of all the plants and merchandise AND 20 percent off all Greenhouse purchases! Plus this year, all new members will receive a small native tree, while supplies last. We are open to the public on Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm, and Sunday noon to 5 pm.

Food trucks will be available for hungry shoppers.

Food trucks will be available for hungry shoppers.

To enhance your shopping experience, many regional vendors we call our Perennial Partners will be available. Some of the Perennial Partners will be old friends you’ve come to expect, and some are new additions. There will be guided Garden Tours and Lilly House tours, food trucks, a Bonsai exhibition and demonstrations in Deer Zink Special Events Pavilion, free off-site parking at the Interchurch Center and a shuttle running between the Museum and the Greenhouse.

The Greenhouse is proud to offer a great selection of native plants as well as plants that have earned stellar reputations by being real workhorses in our very challenging zone. In addition, we will have a wide selection of new and unusual plants, annuals (weather-permitting), tropicals, herbs, houseplants, small trees, shrubs and orchids. Download a list of plants that are on order.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few images of some of what’s new for 2014 …

Now that you’re drooling … please join me in crossing your fingers that this will become a Vivaldi spring!

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Oldfields


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