May 2014

Public tour allows peek at how famous families lived at Twin Oaks

Current Twin Oaks resident John Herbst selects,  places and tends plants in the garden. Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society

Current Twin Oaks resident John Herbst selects, places and tends plants in the garden. Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society

A tour of Twin Oaks next weekend allows visitors to get a peek at the history of two of the best-known families in Indianapolis.

Twin Oaks is the former home and gardens of Ruth Lilly, great-granddaughter of Eli Lilly, founder of the pharmaceutical giant. It was built in 1941 for the family of Lyman S. Ayres II, grandson of the department store founder.

The gardens were designed originally by Frits Loosten (1909-1989), a famous Indianapolis landscape architect. He redesigned them in a more European-style garden when the Ayres sold the property to Ruth Lilly’s father, Josiah K. Lilly in the mid 1950s.

Today, Twin Oaks is the residence of John Herbst, president of the Indiana Historical Society. It also serves as the society’s hospitality center, where its paintings and other art are exhibited. A fundraiser to support the society’s education programs, this is the first time Twin Oaks has been open to the public.

“What has been great for me as a gardener is to restore these historic gardens designed by one of our great landscape designers, and bring them back to life,” said Herbst, an award-winning gardener who likes to get his hands dirty. “I have wonderful bones to work with, extensive white brick walls, bricks and slate paths and terraces, and two ponds.”

The property is owned by William and Laura Weaver, the third generation to operate Weaver Popcorn Co. Inc., based in Van Buren, Ind., The Weavers purchased Twin Oaks from Ruth Lilly’s estate and leases it to the society to manage.

Herbst has done all of the plant selection, placement and much of the planting. “The Kitchen Garden is totally my labor. As I am working out there, I also feel that Ruth Lilly would approve, as she loved flowers and the gardens here. It was a great enjoyment, for her for many years, to be taken through the gardens when the weather was nice,” he said.


Tour of Twin Oaks Home and Gardens

11 a.m. to 6 p.m., June 6 to 8

555 Kessler Blvd., West Drive

Parking with shuttle service at Fox Hill Elementary School, 802 Fox Hill Dr. T

ickets: $18 in advance; $20 tour days. Children 3 to 12, $5.

For details:

Inaugural Celebration in Fishers

The Friends of Heritage Gardens at the Ambassador House and the city of Fishers are sponsoring Fishers Heritage Garden Celebration June 7 and 8. The keynote speaker is Pearl Fryar, the well-known sculptor of plants and subject of the 2006 documentary ‘A Man Names Pearl” ( Fryar will give programs at Ambassador House and at the Nickel Plate District Amphitheatre.

Widen the space around the patio or deck for a lovely show of plants

It is common for a narrow strip of soil to surround the patio. This strip was widened to accommodate upright yews and hydrangeas for privacy and color. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

It is common for a narrow strip of soil to surround the patio. This strip was widened to accommodate upright yews and hydrangeas for privacy and color.
© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

As we head outdoors for race weekend and Memorial Day, here are a few tips on how to spruce up your patio or deck to add a little beauty to the fun.

In general, we tend to have narrow strips of dirt around the patio — barely 2 feet wide, so suggestion number one would be to widen the planting area. Planting a 4-foot wide shrub in that 2-foot space turns into a pruning chore.

Making the planting area 4 to 6 feet wide not only allows for a broader selection of plants, it also is more in scale with the patio, deck and house. And while carving a larger planting bed, give it a few curves rather than straight lines.

When it comes to decks, a common mistake is to use plants that are too small. Plants need to be in proportion to nearby structures, whether it’s the house, garage, deck or patio. Tiny plants can get lost in the mass and size of nearby structures. Planting areas around decks need to accommodate the height and width of plants that will camouflage footings, posts, beams and other structural and construction materials.

Be sure to read the plant tags to make sure your selections will thrive in the horticulture environment you have, such as sun or shade or wet or dry soil. Always allow for the mature height and width of the plants you select.

Add containers filled with annuals, perennials, small trees or shrubs, herbs or maybe even vegetables or small fruit, recommends Altum’s Horticulture and Landscape in Zionsville, in a recent newsletter.

“One of the fastest and most flexible ways to transition into summer. Wipe down your containers and fill them with fresh potting soil. Or pick a pretty new pot or two for a focal point. We also love repurposed containers like galvanized tubs, weathered buckets and troughs. Flea markets and garage sales are where we find some of our favorites. Just remember to add a hole for drainage,” the newsletter says (

Containers not only add spot color, they also serve as boundaries and soften corners. Cluster pots for even more impact. Water as needed and regularly fertilize plants in containers for the best show.


Invite this garden-worthy ‘weed’ to your landscape

'Little Joe' Joe Pye weed. Photo courtesy

‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye weed. Photo courtesy

Sure, weed is part of its name, but this plant is one of the best for attracting bees, butterflies, other pollinating insects and hummingbirds.

Plants called Joe Pye weed is a big family with lots of nearly unpronounceable names. Recently, the name of the common Joe Pye weed was changed from Eupatorium to Eutrochium. The Chicago Botanic Garden has evaluated most of this family during the past decade and found many garden-worthy candidates in this group of native plants.

“Joe-Pye weeds and their relatives are underrated native plants that possess many great garden qualities,” wrote Richard Hawke, plant evaluation manager at the CBG. “Large airy inflorescences and handsome foliage grace an array of plant sizes. These long-blooming plants are invaluable for attracting an assortment of butterflies to the late season garden.”

Joe Pye weed does best in full sun, but tolerates light shade. It thrives in soil that is more moist than dry, so water as needed. Some Joe Pye weed family members self sow, so deadheading – removing spent flowers – will help reduce that. Cut back to the ground in late winter.

Here are the five-star earners in the CBG trials. Chicago-area bloom times are provided, but here in central Indiana, they might be a slightly earlier.

‘Chocolate’ (Ageratina altissima sometimes listed as Eutrochium rugosum) has 3-inch wide white flowers atop 36-inch tall stems. The undersides of the leaves are a dark purple or brown, giving it the chocolate moniker. The foliage, which has excellent mildew resistance, is not that spectacular, but the plant size makes it serviceable in the garden from early September to late October.

‘Little Joe’ (Eutrochium dubium) has purple, flat-top flowers that get up to 5-inches wide. It’s 48- to 60-inches tall. This clump grower blooms from early August to mid September and shows excellent mildew resistance.

‘Carin’ (Eutrochium dubium) has pale pink flowers that get up to 9 inches wide. It blooms from early August to early September, and may get up to 85 inches tall and has excellent resistance to mildew. Hawke calls these tall Joe Pye weed titans, and recommends planting them in the back of a perennial border. Titans also could be planted as a late-season specimen or focal point.

‘Bartered Bride’ (E. fistulosum f. albidum) is another tall beauty, reaching up to 90-inches tall. The 9-inch wide white flowers start blooming in late July and continue into September. It exhibited good resistance to mildew. Here’s the full report.


Gift suggestions for Mother’s Day

Dogwoods bloom around Mother's Day, making them a perfect gift or remembrance for the special day and person. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dogwoods bloom around Mother’s Day, making them a perfect gift or remembrance for the special day and person. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Every year on this weekend, customers rush into garden centers looking for a Mother’s Day gift. Many have no idea if their mom will put the hanging basket or combo pot in the sun or shade. They say they just “need something.”

Here are some ideas:

  • Begonia Santa Cruz Sunset. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Begonia Santa Cruz Sunset. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Look for hanging baskets or potted arrangements that can go in sun or shade. Dragon or baby wing begonias are good choices. So is ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ begonia (B. boliviensis), which the public voted the best plant in 2012’s American Garden Award program. Because of its growth habit, it works best in a hanging basket or other container.

  • If there’s room in her garden, give mom a small, ornamental tree, such as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), redbud (Cercis canadensis) or serviceberry (Amelanchier). These are native, understory trees, and do well in an east- or north-facing garden or under the canopy and filtered light of larger trees with south or west exposure.
  • If mom likes to cook, pot up a container of her favorite herbs. This planting will work on a sunny patio, balcony, porch stoop or a bright window.
  • Roses (Rosa) can be winners, especially the easy-care landscape or ground cover types, which tend to be pest resistant. But if mom is as bored as I am with Knock Out roses, look for brands Drift, Flower Carpet or Easy Elegance.
Flower Carpet Coral ground cover rose. Photo courtesy Flower Carpet Roses

Flower Carpet Coral ground cover rose. Photo courtesy Flower Carpet Roses


  • Avid gardeners go through a lot of gloves. We lose both of them, one half of the pair or wear holes in their fingers or palm. Frankly, gardeners cannot have too many gloves.
  • A small, recirculating fountain adds the relaxing sound of water, attracts birds and enhances the overall ambience in the garden. These fountains are perfect for patios, decks or balconies.
  • Ergonomic or hand friendly tools with padded handles, ratchet gears and other improvements can be a boon for moms with a bit of arthritis.
  • Take mom on the 19th annual Garden Walk, sponsored by the Indianapolis Garden Club. Five gardens are on this year’s tour Wednesday, June 4. Make a day of it and enjoy lunch at Woodstock Club as part of the event.
  • Hardly anything warms the heart of a gardener like a load of manure, planter’s mix or mulch, especially when it comes with willing workers, like a wonderful daughter or son.
  • A bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from the farmers market or florist also is a nice gift.


Spring reveals the ravages of winter on plants

New growth appears at the base of a Knock Out rose. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

New growth appears at the base of a Knock Out rose. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Finally, our plants are revealing the ravages of our most brutal winter.

In my yard, the Knock Out red rose (Rosa ‘Radrazz’) has died, which frankly, is all right with me. I was getting bored with it and tired of seeing it planted in every gas station, restaurant and strip mall in the country. Hardy to USDA Zone 5 (minus 20 degrees), our series of record cold blasts likely did this plant in, so it’s coming out.

If there are leaves or green branches emerging from the bottom of your Knock Out, cut the shrub back to the new growth. This fast-growing rose will likely bloom again this summer.

I thought for sure that I’d lost the five variegated Solomon’s seals (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’) that I had planted last summer. These were the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2013. I’d even told people I’d lost them, but there they are, the nice clump I planted, just a bit slower to emerge than expected. Another one of those “gardening teaches us patience moments.”

Little Henry Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Sprich’) also has not leafed out. It looks like there’s one branch that’s green, but this shrub has not thrived in my landscape, so I’m pulling it out. This cultivar of a native plant is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Gardeners are reporting the browning of arborvitae shrubs (Thuja), broadleaf hollies (Ilex), the yellowing of Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and few to no leaves on azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron). Brown leaves on evergreens will not green up. If the damage is patchy, you can prune out the brown branches. If the browning is extensive, replace the plant.

The one miracle in my landscape is the ever-so-slow, but promising emergence of the delicate maidenhair fern (Adiantum pendatum). This lovely, and a bit hard to find, native fern is hardy to USDA Zone 3 (minus 40 degrees). This one is special because a customer at the garden center where I work dug up part of her clump to share.

Still to be revealed: Winter’s affect on insect populations.