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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

 

Two Indiana plants

There are multiple plants throughout the gardens that are native to Indiana, others to the United States, and still many more from other countries, as well as those of a cultivated origin. With this wide array of possibilities, it is nice every now and again to focus on something found originally in the state of Indiana. Two native Indiana plants are Spigelia marilandica and Delphinium exaltatum. These two flowers bring color to the garden, and can be used in various places, especially when trying for a more naturalized appeal. Seasonal horticulturalist Helen Morlock considers Spigelia marilandica to be her favorite flower while I really enjoy seeing Delphinium exaltatum amongst many other native Indiana plants.

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink) Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink)
Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

Spigelia marilandica is known as Indian Pink. This shade loving plant is great for many homeowners’ shady areas created by windbreaks and other trees and shrubs. This woodland native loves moist and rich soils that have good drainage and some organic matter present. It is a perennial native, growing well alongside the native Aquilegia canadensis (columbine), or in among other summer blooming perennials, such as salvias and geraniums. One can also plant it beside or among a variety of hostas, lungworts, and other shade perennials.

In the spring, the plant should be divided if already present, or planted as transplants. It will self-seed, as the mature seeds will pop out of their seedpods and onto the ground around the plant. Maintenance-wise, this plant requires little once it is in a shady spot with a moist, well-drained soil. (Try to help keep the soil moist during the hot summer months!) Just remember to cut the plant back to the ground in the fall for winter protection.

Red and yellow tubular shaped, star flowers (two inches in length) can be found in early summer on plants that can be up to 2 feet tall and wide. These plants have opposite glossy green leaves that can get up to 4 inches long. The flowers for the Indian Pink are one-sided as well. The best flower display occurs in June, with blooms reoccurring throughout the rest of the summer. Right now, we have some blooming on the museum grounds along the tennis courts. This is along the drive of the Lilly house, where the tennis courts used to be located.

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur) Image courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur)
Image courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Delphinium exaltatum is known as the Tall Larkspur. It is named thus due to its height of 4 to 6 feet, whereas many others in the Delphinium genus do not reach such heights. Flowers occur on terminal racemes, being gentian blue in color. Others might consider this color to be more of a purple than a blue. So be sure to know that sometimes when you ask for blue flowers (especially from a florist) that they might actually be closer to what you consider as purple. Larkspur comes from the shape of the flower, which looks like it has a spur. Dark green leaves are palmate, each with three to five lobes.

Protect the tall larkspur from the winter winds. In summer, color might fade in hotter weather but usually does better here in the north than further down south, so give it some afternoon shade from the hot summer sun. Flowers bloom during the summer, later than others of the same genus. Overall, this native plant enjoys full sun, well-drained fertile soils, and can be 4 to 6 feet high, as mentioned above, and 1 to 2 feet wide. Once the flowers have finished, remove the stalk so that the plant has a chance to produce more flowers for you to view and enjoy.

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur) Photo by Audra Franz

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur)
Photo by Audra Franz

Here at the IMA, the tall larkspur can be found in the more naturalized area of the Formal Garden. Facing the entrance to the Formal Garden with the lawn area (tennis court area) to your back, the larkspur can be found on the left, before getting to the pots sitting at that entrance.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Indiana, Oldfields

 

Excited about Echinacea

Echinacea "Sundown"

Echinacea “Sundown”

What can you find in the garden that is tall, purple, and named after a hedgehog? Echinacea, of course! Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, because of the spiny centers of the flower heads. I am sure that many are familiar with the purple coneflower because of its popularity in the Eastern United States. What makes it so special? Echinacea has become a very commonly used flower because it is so easy to grow and very tolerant of weather conditions and garden pests that we are all too familiar with here in Indiana.

Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is native to meadows, prairies, and woodland edges where they are able to receive the most sunlight. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, deer tolerant, and even tolerant of clay soil. With just those three factors it is easy to see why the use of Echinacea is so widespread. As long as your coneflowers are in a spot where they can receive full sun, you will have the benefit of their summer long bloom time usually from July until September. Pruning before flowering will delay bloom time and allow you to have fresh, new blooms later in the season. Most people like to cut back all of the dead heads at the end of the flowering season to prevent the massive amounts of reseeding. However, if you like to help feed the birds in the colder months, leaving the seed heads on the coneflowers provide plenty of seed for birds such as golden finches and juncos. Just be sure to prepare yourself for all the coneflower seedlings that will show up in the spring if you do not remove the seed heads.

Echinacea "Sundown" with bee.

Echinacea “Sundown” with bee.

Not only do coneflowers benefit the bird population in the fall, but they also aid the insect population during its flowering season. During the summer, bees and butterflies can be spotted feeding on the nectar and, in late August, you may even find soldier beetles. The soldier beetle is a beneficial insect that feeds on those pesky aphids as well as other soft-bodied insects. So be sure not to harm these particular beetles as they are causing no harm to the plant itself. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Japanese beetles. If there are signs that something is eating away at your coneflowers, it is most likely this pesky critter. Along with Japanese beetles, aphids and eriophyid mites are also problematic to these plants. Sadly insects aren’t the only force of nature that coneflowers have to contend with. Some disease problems to watch out for are powdery mildew, anthracnose, and aster yellows. But, as with any other type of plant, proper care and maintenance can help prevent your coneflowers from falling victim to these diseases.

On the much brighter and more beautiful side, the Echinacea have eight to none different species to choose from that are all tough plants which can withstand the weather conditions in the Central and Eastern United States. Echinacea is no longer just purple coneflowers, but pretty pinks, reds, oranges and whites too. Here at the IMA, you will see the first clusters of Echinacea as you walk down the mall. Walking down the sidewalk past the overlook you will notice the bright pink ‘Southern Belle’ cultivar. The Garden for Everyone has a nice section devoted to ‘Sundown’. And you can’t miss all of the coneflowers in the Four Seasons Garden. It is a beautiful summer with so many wonderful Echinacea to see.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

Towers of ‘taters!

You say poh-tay-toe and I say poh-tah-toe and, considering the fact that potatoes play a significant role in food supplies worldwide, there are lots of ways to say POTATO in dozens and dozens of languages! Researchers have found that the potato originated from South America. Its stellar ability to be stored long-term allowed it to be a perfect cargo haul for ships. Naturally, the Spanish brought it back to Europe from South America and it quickly became a staple for mariners who, in turn, introduced it to other ports around the world. Now we have French fries, gnocchi, aloo gobi, bangers and mash, tater tots, papa rellena, pierogi – this list could go on and on!

062614_garden_03Prior to commercial farming, homesteads sported their own plot of vegetable gardens and dedicated a portion of it to rows of potatoes. Today’s modern “homestead” does not typically offer the space for rows of potatoes and gardeners are getting creative with making the most of the plot they’ve got. We plugged in the creative juices here at the IMA and decided to try something new. It’s not a novel idea, nor can we take the credit of inventing the “method”, but it saves space, looks kinda shabby-chic, and gets the job done! We’re growing our potatoes this year in Tater Towers.

Our Tater Towers were constructed from repurposed tomato cages, lined with burlap. The burlap holds the soil inside the cage and yet allows moisture and air to move freely. We filled the lined towers with a foot or so of composted leaves. Why compost? Because it’s rich in nutrients, holds moisture, but is “fluffy.” Potato plants are usually started from the “eyes”, or sprouts, of another potato (called a seed potato). We dropped our seed potatoes into the towers and covered them with a slight layer of compost. As the sprouts began to develop leaves, we would add more compost.

We now have about 2 to 2.5 feet of compost in each tower and the plants have continued to grow. Potatoes will develop along the buried stems of the plant, all the while the plant above ground will continue to grow and stretch toward the sun. The Tater Towers offer a two-fold function: the lower half houses the medium for potatoes to form and the upper half confines the stems/leaves to avoid flopping and the hogging of garden space. Later in the summer, the plants will die back and we’ll dismantle the towers to hopefully find a healthy crop of taters.

Since there is more than one way to skin a potato and they’re fairly easy to grow, let’s not call this whole thing off! Find a growing method that works for your homestead (rows, boxes, grow bags, towers) and plant some spuds!

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

The Golden Age anew: The IMA’s Dutch and Flemish gallery reinstalled

071814_dutch_flemish_01On July 18, the newly reinstalled gallery of Dutch and Flemish painting opens to the public. The Northern baroque paintings are one of the strengths of the IMA’s collection, and it is with pride that the IMA presents some of its most popular paintings – such as Aelbert Cuyp’s Valkhof at Nijmegen and Jan Miense Molenaer’s Battle Between Carnival and Lent – alongside some of the lesser-known gems, such as Govaert Flinck’s Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls. Several pictures are coming out of storage, including an excellent mid-17th century copy after a lost self-portrait by Frans Hals and a painting of an old man in a fur-edged cap by a follower of Rembrandt, both from the Clowes Fund Collection. The integration of these two Clowes pictures into the hanging in the William C. Griffith Jr. and Carolyn C. Griffith Gallery (H215) invigorates the survey of 17th century Northern painting.

071814_dutch_flemish_02

Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde, (Dutch, 1638-1698), “Dam Square in Amsterdam,” 1668
Collection of Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

The highlight of the new gallery layout, however, is a long-term loan from the Koninklijk Museum voor  Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde’s Dam Square in Amsterdam [left] of 1668.  Recently treated by IMA paintings conservators, this is the artist’s largest and most vibrant interpretation of this site. The painting shows the “eighth wonder of the world,” the classicizing Amsterdam Town Hall (Stadhuis), overlooking the boxy Renaissance Weigh House (Waag) and the chancel and spire of the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk). The square, which bustles today with tourists as it bustles with magistrates and merchants in Berckheyde’s painting, occupied a central place in the Dutch national identity in the 17th century.

The cornerstone of the new Town Hall was laid on Oct. 20, 1648, in celebration of the Treaty of Westphalia, the agreement that officially recognized the Dutch Republic’s independence from Spain. The entire visual program of the building’s exterior is crafted, in fact, to speak to this newly gained freedom. The tympanum on the east façade displays the enthroned maid of Amsterdam surrounded by water creatures, who offer her crowns of laurel. This carved relief is surmounted by three free-standing sculpted figures; on the two sides stand Prudence and Justice. The figure of Peace crowns the pediment and holds aloft an olive branch, symbolizing peace, and the caduceus of Mercury, an allusion to wisdom and trade. Even the classicism of the architecture – the rounded arches of the ground-floor doorways, the prominent Composite and Corinthian pilasters on the second and third levels, the sculpted tympana, and the carved garlands between the pilasters – is meant to recall the style of that exemplary model of republicanism, Rome. That Peace stands atop a cornucopia, evoking abundance, is fundamental to the Town Hall’s placement on the Dam.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Inherent to sustaining this freedom is the economic and civic activity that we see depicted in a variety of forms in Berckheyde’s painting. The Weigh House, where imported cargo of more than 50 pounds was weighed upon entrance to the city, is the locus around which men roll barrels of wine [Fig. 2], horses pull heavy loads, and money exchanges hands. In front of it, a small fruit market marks the morning, while the buildings on the square’s south side (at the left of the painting) bear signs indicating a printseller and a notary [Fig. 3]. Even the pockets of magistrates chatting before heading into their chambers in the Town Hall suggest a thriving society. Berckheyde, who has animated the square here with more citizens than in most of his other versions, demonstrates the Dam to be a vibrant, essential location in the city.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

A more enlightening painting could not inaugurate the new gallery hanging. An expression of Holland’s new identity as a prosperous republic of the North, Berckheyde’s scene records the physical and cultural topography of Holland’s most important city. The artist’s brilliant sense of light and color, however, captivates the eye as it informs the mind, making the painting a welcomed temporary addition to our museum. Be sure to come see the new installation and admire Berckheyde’s painting!

 

Filed under: Art, Conservation, History, Installation, The Collection

 

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