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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

 

Astilbe: Brightening up the shade garden

Why is it that every time I think of shade gardens, the first plant that comes to my mind is a hosta? Could it be that everyone just really loves the large foliage, and the many different cultivars to choose from? I personally find it difficult to think of many plants that will add BRIGHT colors to the shade garden to liven the place up. Yes, the flowers of the hosta can be very beautiful, but I want something bigger and bolder. Looking around the gardens on a cloudy day, the astilbes are what really catch my attention in the shade gardens.

061314_astilbe_01Astilbe, also known as False Spirea, is a moisture loving shade plant. Astilbes prefer to have organic rich soils (as does everyone else) with plenty of shade. Having soils with higher clay content isn’t all bad since it can hold a little extra moisture for our astilbe friends. However, be sure to keep an eye out for those hot dry summer days. One of the most common issues with astilbes is dryness. I’m sure many noticed during the 2013 summer drought that the astilbes had brown margins on the leaves, or even whole leaves that withered up and died prematurely. Having an ample amount of moisture is essential to having healthy astilbes. Other than the inability to tolerate drought, there are few insects and diseases that really affect astilbes.

What makes the astilbe such a special plant to use in the shade garden? The large plume-like flowers are what really distinguish the astilbe from other shade plants. Long slender stems rise up from the mound of finely toothed leaves to show off large colorful flowers. With the many different cultivars you could have a simple white or cream colored flower to a brilliantly bright pink or red flower. Depending on the cultivar, there are astilbes that flower as early as late spring, and there are others that flower late summer.

061314_astilbe_02As summer progresses into fall, the flowers will start to fade. The dried up flower panicles give a little extra texture and interest to the garden. If keeping the flower panicles attached isn’t something you are particularly fond of, they can be cut off and the foliage of the astilbe will make a decent groundcover. Some cultivars may even have a reddish tint to the foliage so there is still a little extra color to be displayed. If you are like me and have difficulties keeping rabbits and deer from chewing your hostas down to nothing, the astilbe is a great addition to any shade garden.

Some great examples of beautiful astilbes can be found all over the IMA grounds. The border gardens have beautiful plantings of astilbe ‘Amethyst’ as well as A. x rosea ‘Peach Blossom’. The formal garden is home to a few A. x arensii ‘Erica’. There are also quite a few astilbes that are right next to the parking lot across from the Garden for Everyone. These are most certainly not the only astilbes that can be found on the grounds, so feel free to explore and find some more.

Filed under: 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

 

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’.

050514_pansies

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

 

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