October 2017

IMA’s first plant exhibit features orchids

Color Me Orchid exhibit runs through March 13 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Color Me Orchid exhibit runs through March 13 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

The Orchid Exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art is as rich with history as it is with blooms.

As far as I’m able to tell, it’s the first formal exhibit of a plant at the IMA. (Of course, the gardens and grounds exhibit plants year-round.) And, an exhibit of orchids is an homage, or sorts, to the late IMA benefactor, Madeline F. Elder, for whom the greenhouse is named.

There are two places for the Color Me Orchid exhibit, which runs through March 13. The Pop-Up Shop is in the Bret Waller Gallery in the main building. An exhibit of more exotic and collector orchids is at the greenhouse.

“The Pop-Up Shop exhibit is laid out like a sculpture gallery,” said Sue Nord Peiffer, greenhouse manager and curator of the exhibit. Gorgeously displayed in gallery lighting, individual plants sit on pedestals, shelves, nooks and crannies like you’d find in a sculpture exhibit.

All of the plants in the Pop-Up Shop are for sale. They came from growers as close as Indiana and as far away as Hawaii, Peiffer said. The orchids at the shop will change regularly as new plants begin to bloom. The greenhouse’s living gallery exhibit reflects the orchids’ visual and scented appeal.

Orchids are on exhibit in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse and in the Pop-Up Shop in the main museum building Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Orchids are on exhibit in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse and in the Pop-Up Shop in the main museum building Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Elder is credited with leading the effort to save the greenhouse from demolition in 1972. “She rallied volunteers, repainted the greenhouse and donated some of her own plants,” Peiffer said. Elder, who died at age 103 in 1992, also provided financial support and eventually endowed the greenhouse. The legacy also continues with the IMA’s Horticultural Society, which was founded by some of Elder’s volunteers.

One orchid in the special exhibit at the greenhouse is from Elder’s collection. Elder was known nationally as an avid collector of orchids and African violets, Peiffer said. Coincidentally, while doing research, Peiffer learned another connection to the greenhouse was also a collector of orchids. J.K. Lilly Sr., the father of J.K. Lilly Jr., who lived at Oldfields and owned the greenhouse, had a large orchid collection at his Carmel, Indiana home, she said. The Lilly family donated the 52 acres at Michigan Road and 38th Street to be an art museum.

Color Me Orchid is free for members. Regular admission applies for nonmembers. Admission is free 4 to 9 p.m., March 3, the first Thursday of the month. Class on repotting orchids will be Feb. 27 and March 5.  Author Douglas Allen will talk about “Success with Orchids in Your Home,” 2 p.m., March 6 at The Toby. His talk is free.

An epic guide to growing tomatoes

Cherokee Purple Tomato. Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants

Cherokee Purple Tomato. Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants

For the last few week, gardener have been thinking about the upcoming planting season. And when it comes to growing our own, tomatoes top the list. To help us succeed comes Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing, $19.95). LeHoullier, the tomato advisor for Seed Savers Exchange, has trialed more than 1,200 tomato varieties through his 35 years of gardening.

I immediately checked out my favorite, Cherokee Purple, an heirloom that tastes like what we think a tomato should taste like, truly bursting with flavor. “Cherokee Purple exploded in our mouths in a symphony of flavors and nuances,” wrote LeHoullier of his and his wife, Sue’s first taste.

epic tomato coverThen, I looked up Brandywine, the tomato that aroused our interest in heirlooms. Some years, production is great and some years, not so much. “It is still Brandywine that I think of when I ponder the perfect tomato-eating experience. An authentic Brandywine has an unmatched succulent texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor enlivens the taste buds, with all the favorable components of the best tomatoes – tartness, sweetness, fullness and complexity – in perfect balance,” he wrote.

Is your mouth watering? Fortunately, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and many other heirlooms are available at local garden center. If you haven’t ever tried one, do so this year.

The book makes suggestions for handling common tomato disease and insect problems and gives tips on planting, harvesting and preserving, along with recommendations on 250 varieties. Although most of the book is dedicated to heirlooms, there are several comparison charts that include well known hybrids, such as Better Boy. LeHoullier lists prized tomato varieties by their color, such as green, striped or black.

If planning to start your tomatoes from seed indoors, follow the packet instructions. Usually the indoor seed-starting process tomato starts about six weeks before transplanting outdoors, which is mid May. Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold air and soil temperatures, so don’t rush their outdoor planting.

Grow tomatoes where they will get at least six hours of direct sun. Eight hours is even better. Tomatoes can be grown in the ground in well-drained soil or in a container. If growing in a pot, select a dwarf type, such as Patio, or a determinate variety, such as Celebrity. Determinates reach a certain height then stop growing. Indeterminate varieties grow until they are killed by frost. Plan on staking most tomato varieties.

Celebrate a bicentennial garden with blue and gold flowers

Yellow daffodils and blue pansies celebrate Indiana's bicentennial. © Jahina_photos/

Yellow daffodils and blue pansies celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial. © Jahina_photos/

Indiana celebrates its bicentennial this year and you can commemorate the 200th birthday by planting blue and gold flowers, the colors of our state’s flag.

The Indiana Bicentennial Commission and the Garden Club of Indiana have partnered to promote the effort, especially in public spaces, but also in our landscapes and ornamental containers. Neighborhoods, condos, apartment complexes, cities and towns could deck their entryways with blue and yellow plants. Businesses can plant lovely blue and gold, flowerpots by their doors or in window boxes on the building.

It’s easy to get these hues in spring, because readily available pansies and violas come in blues and golds. Other spring options: gold or yellow ranunculus, snapdragons or forced daffodils with blue pansies or violas. Under plant some yellow or gold daffodils or tulips in the landscape with blue violas, or place a pot of blue pansies nearby.

Summer is even easier, although as Purdue University horticulturist Rosie Lerner says, “Some blue flowers are more purple than blue, and likewise, some gold flowers are more yellow.”

Some of my favorites for summer: Any of the annual blue salvias, such as ‘Victoria Blue’, ‘Black and Blue’, or ‘Mystic Spires’. Mix these with yellow or gold marigold, zinnia, calibrachoa or moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora). The salvias also would go well with an annual black-eyed Susan, or gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta), or the perennial (R. fulgida). There’s a golden yellow annual tickseed called plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) and perennial types (C. lanceolata or C. verticillata), including ‘Jethro Tull’, ‘Early Sunrise’, ‘Zagreb’ or ‘Moonbeam’.

For fall, reuse the blue salvias with some crisp, yellow mums. Pansies and snapdragons also hang tough in fall, and you’ll find timely, fresh crops of these in garden centers.

Winter, of course, is a challenge, but not without hope. Hang onto the cool-season pansies and put them in a pot around a small boxwood or dwarf Alberta spruce. This combo will work well in an all-weather container in an exposed location, or a ceramic or terra cotta pot in a protected area.

Just one pot with the flag’s colors is enough to cheer happy 200th birthday, Indiana. For more suggestions of blue and gold flowers, please download Lerner’s list, or one from the Garden Club of Indiana.

Tips for cut flowers on Valentine’s Day or any day

Favor your loved one with red tulips on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. © Neirfy/

Favor your loved one with red tulips on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
© Neirfy/

The day we profess our romantic love is fast approaching and, of course, I recommend flowers for the occasion. And in the year 2016, Valentine’s Day flowers can be given to men as an expression of love, as well as to women.

Here are some tips for caring for cut flowers any time of year:

  • At the florist, select stems with flower buds that are still tight, or barely open. In season, morning is the best time to cut flowers from the garden.
  • When you get the flowers home, make a new, 45-degree angle cut on the stem. Experts recommend making the cut on a rose with the stem under water.
  • Remove leaves that will be under water in the vase.
  • Cut flower preservative is not recommended for use with tulips, daffodils, lilies, dahlias or other bulbs. Mix the preservative with the water in a clean vase for other flowers, if desired. Some people mix the preservative in a gallon jug and use that mixture when replenishing water in the vase.
  • Arrange the flowers in the vase. Don’t crowd the arrangement because that can speed up the deterioration of the bouquet. The flowers should be one-half to two-thirds taller than the vase.
  • Place the vase out of direct sun. The cooler the location, the longer the bouquet is likely to last.
  • Every day or two, replenish the water in the vase. Recut the flower stems if the bottoms look brown, yellow or mushy. Remove flowers as they start to fade.

Birth month flowers

Texas A&M University, the Old Farmer’s Almanac and have assigned flowers to represent various birth months. A bouquet of flowers representing a loved one’s birth month makes a unique gift for his or her special day.

January: Carnation. Red means “I love you.”

February: Violet. You’ll always be there for the recipient.

Daffodils, the birth flower for March, symbolizes unequaled love or sympathy. (C)

Daffodils, the birth flower for March, symbolizes unequaled love or sympathy. (C)

March: Daffodil. Unequaled love, or sympathy.

April: Daisy. Innocence.

May: Lily of the valley. Sweetness, humility and a return to happiness.

June: Rose. Yellow is jealousy or loss of love.

July: Larkspur. Pink means fickle.

August: Gladiolus. Remembrance, calm.

September: Aster. Powerful love.

October: Marigold. Fierce, undying love.

November: Mum. Innocence, pure love.

December: Holly. Domestic happiness.

Orchard in Bloom ends after 25-year tradition

Lemcke Landscape created a vegetable and fruit tabletop arrangement as part of its display garden at Orchard In Bloom in 2012. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Lemcke Landscape created a vegetable and fruit tabletop arrangement as part of its display garden at Orchard In Bloom in 2012. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A 25-year tradition has come to an end. After a year on hiatus, Orchard in Bloom has been discontinued by The Orchard School.

The decision was made after a year of study, said school officials on the website. Orchard in Bloom was placed on hiatus in 2015 because major construction projects at Holliday Park, and its future seemed uncertain. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was proud to serve as honorary chair of Orchard in Bloom in 2008.)

“In recognition that the needs of the school’s parent community have changed, the Orchard Parents’ Association and The Orchard School have decided not to continue Orchard In Bloom. This decision was not made lightly,” said the website’s post, signed by Tom Rosenbluth, head of school; Colleen O’Brien, Parents’ Association president; Trisha Lautenbach, chair of the board of trustees; and Debbie Mattingly, OIB special events coordinator.

The Parents’ Association was the driving force behind the garden show, a huge volunteer effort that raised at least $200,000 for Holliday Park, the site of the three-day event, recently held the first weekend in May.

“I’m proud of the pride the parents, students, teachers and administrators took in producing this back-breaking, yet fantastic event each year,” said Amy MacDonell, who was co-chair twice between 2000 and 2010, and a committee chair for eight years. “OIB was the perfect intersection of community event, fundraiser for the school and benefit for Holliday Park and the perfect example to our kids how important it is to give back to community interests. I’m sad that OIB is now a memory, but deeply respect the school and the parents association for the tough decision process regarding the future of the show.”

The much-anticipated annual Orchard in Bloom festival united the best of The Orchard School with the best of the greater Indianapolis community, said Jamie Snyder, who was OIB co-chair in 2003. “Local vendors brought their finest work, which paired wonderfully with the crafts and items contributed by Orchard students, parents and volunteers. Our parents, students, volunteers, vendors, speakers and guests all created a delightful experience that will live and reward us all for a very long time,” she said.

Gus Lemcke, owner of Lemcke Landscape, won several awards for the gardens he created for Orchard in Bloom during 10 years of participation. Although it was good exposure and it generated some business, “I did it because it was in the community I live in and it was a way to give back,” he said. “I guess it has run its course.”

IMA symposium features stylish plants and speakers

kelly-download-8x10It makes sense that Kelly Norris, a guy who dons wood bowties as a fashion statement, would write a book named “Plants with Style.” Published by Timber Press late in 2015, Norris’ book is not our grandmother’s garden book.

First, there’s his rich, descriptive writing: “Snowdrops (Galanthus) are among the earliest hits of spring, verdant notes from a dormant score” in the chapter Drops, Driblets, Spots and Specks.

The book is organized seasonally and populated with wow photos and wow plants you’ve probably never heard of, such as ‘Ginger Twist’ and ‘Pomegranate Punch’ Siberian iris, or ‘Purple Perversion’ (Plantago major), a frilly leaf plantain developed by plantsman Joseph Tychonievich in Michigan.

A self-proclaimed plant geek, Norris, 28, was about 10 years old and thrilled when his grandmother, who had a large iris garden, stopped at a small nursery in Nebraska. He remembers the nurseryman digging irises from the beds, wrapping them in paper and later, sitting at the man’s kitchen table talking about plants.

Perhaps it’s genetic, because at 15, he convinced his parents to buy Rainbow Iris Farm in Bedford, in southwest Iowa. His exuberance and knowledge about plants has garnered him the Young Professional Award from the Perennial Plant Association and the Iowa Author Award for Special Interest Writing. In 2009, Norris was the youngest person to receive the Presidential Citation, Award of Merit and Honor Award in the 150-year history of the Iowa State Horticultural Society. Last year, he received a much sought after Scholar Award from Chanticleer Foundation, in recognition of his work as director of horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

norris book cover editLike several of his other books, “Plants with Style: A Plantsman’s Choices for a Vibrant, 21st Century Garden” was inspired by a presentation Norris gives. The goal, the Iowa native said in an interview, is to inspire anyone interested in gardening to appreciate plants for their beauty and to offer new ways to use them in the landscape.

We’ll get to hear Norris soon. He will present two programs: Perennial Foliage and Perennials Flowers at the horticultural symposium Color in the Garden: Bloom and Beyond at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Feb. 20 in the Toby. Other speakers are Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the IMA; Troy Marden, author and garden designer from Tennessee; and Scott Beuerlein, horticulturist at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Register by Feb. 1 and save $10 on the $110 fee.

Chef’s Choice Green for fried green tomatoes

Tomate / Lycopersicon esculentum greenThe thing about fried green tomatoes is that we either eat unripened ones at the end of the season, when it’s starting to get cold and we know they won’t turn red. Or, we eat unripened tomatoes throughout the season, which reduces the number of the lush, red fruit of summer we’ll get.

Chef’s Choice Green tomato could be the answer. A 2016 All-America Selections, Chef’s Choice ripens to green with faint yellow markings. If not friend green tomatoes, think about its lovely bright color mixed with fresh red or yellow siblings.

Like other tomatoes, plant Chef’s Choice in mid to late May in full sun and well-drained soil. Stake it and water and fertilize regularly. From planting to harvest is about 90 days. Each plant should produce about 20, sweet and tangy tomatoes, 6-7 inch diameter. This cultivar is resistant to tomato mosaic virus, anthracnose, scab, fusarium and verticillium wilts, and cracking.

For more about this year’s All-America Selections of vegetables and flowers, visit You also will be able to see many of these and previous AAS winners this summer at the Purdue Marion County Demonstration Garden on the north side of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Fried Green Tomatoes. (C) Lee Ann White/

Fried Green Tomatoes. (C) Lee Ann White/

Fried Green Tomatoes

1 large egg, slightly beaten

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup corn meal

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 medium-size green tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices

Vegetable oil

Salt to taste


Combine egg and buttermilk and set aside.

Pour oil to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch in a large, cast-iron skillet and heat to 375 degrees.

Combine ¼ cup all-purpose flour and cornmeal, salt and pepper in a shallow pan.

Dredge tomato slices in remaining ¼ cup flour.

Dip in egg mixture and dredge in cornmeal mixture.

Drop tomatoes, in batches, into the hot oil, and cook for 1 minute on each side or until golden.

Drain on paper towels or rack.

Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt to taste.


Source: Southern Living

Year of edible and ornamental alliums

‘Millenium’ ornamental onion blooms for several weeks in midsummer. Photo courtesy

‘Millenium’ ornamental onion blooms for several weeks in midsummer. Photo courtesy

Allium is the family name for garlic, chives and onion, which in their own right, have ornamental characteristics. But the bloom time and beauty of truly ornamental alliums earn them spots in our flower gardens.

These bulbs and bulb-like plants are so garden worthy that the National Garden Bureau has declared 2016 the Year of the Allium.

The edible alliums are among the world’s oldest cultivated plants. There are 500 to 750 allium species, including garlic (A. sativum), and the nodding onion (A. cernuum), one of about 100 species native in North America.

In the last two years, I’ve planted about three dozen ornamental alliums in my garden, primarily because of when they bloom. Alliums have seen an uptick in popularity for several reasons, including:

  • Their bloom times are just enough out of sync with the big spring bulb shows and summer flowers, that they help bridge or extend the seasons.
  • Deer and rabbits avoid them.
  • They are pretty much trouble free.

In their naturalistic creations, well-known garden designers, the late James van Sweden (1935-2013) and Piet Oudolf incorporated ornamental alliums along with coneflowers, sedums, salvias, native grasses, daffodils and other low-maintenance perennials. Lurie Gardens in Chicago’s Millennium Park is first-rate example of Oudolf’s design.

Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors to alliums. Photo courtesy perennial

Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors to alliums. Photo courtesy

The spring-blooming ‘Purple Sensation’ (A. aflatunense) and summer-blooming ‘Millenium’ are two popular cultivars, but there are many others. The flowers of ornamental allium tend toward the blues, purples and pinks, but there are white and yellow ones, too. Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors.

The flowers and stalks of edible alliums, such as onion, garlic and chives, can be used to add savory bits in salads or to flavor meat, egg and vegetable dishes. Ornamental alliums are not considered edible.

Plant ornamental alliums in spring or fall, in well-drained, sunny or partly sunny, locations. Plant them in clumps or clusters for the best show. You’ll find alliums as bulbs, or already growing in nursery pots at garden centers. Look for edible alliums in the herb and vegetable areas and the ornamental types with perennials at garden centers or online retailers, including bulb merchants.

For more about alliums

Take a class and let yourself grow

Saxon Holt’s online photo workshop teaches how lighting affects the color and quality of plant photos. © Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt’s online photo workshop teaches how lighting affects the color and quality of plant photos.
© Saxon Holt

Back in my younger days, a high school friend who purported to read palms told me that I like learning for learning’s sake. She may not have been a palm reader, but she was right about my love of learning.

And, as we head into the New Year, I hope I can inspire some of my readers to take a class, participate in a workshop or hear a lecture about gardening.

One option could be an online garden photography workshop, offered by award-winning photographer Saxon Holt’s Photobotanic.  For $5 a month, chapters are sent on a timed basis, allowing students to read material and finish assignments. Topics include Good Garden Photography, Think Like a Camera, Think Like a Gardener and The Camera and Computer.

Award-winning horticulturist and certified arborist Melinda Myers offers How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone (No. 9721) through The Great Courses for $19.95. This DVD program has 12, 30-minute lectures, covering just about everything for growing vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Color in the Garden: Bloom and Beyond is the theme of this year’s Horticulture Symposium, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Feb. 20, in The Toby at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Topics covered: A Little Jungle with Irvin Etienne; Summer Rhapsody and No Flowers, No Problem with Kelly Norris; Beauties, Bluebells and Brazen Hussies with Troy Marden; and Spring May Sing but Autumn Rocks with Scott Beuerlein. Fee is $95 for members; $110 for nonmembers and $55 for students. Register by Feb. 1 for a $10 discount.

Probably one of the most popular programs is the daylong 22nd annual Spring Garden Clinic, Feb. 27 at St. Luke Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St. Details are not available yet, so check the Marion County Master Gardeners website.

If you are new to gardening or would just like to learn a bit more, sign up for the City Gardener program, offered by Purdue Extension-Marion County at its offices at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Offered Thursdays, 6 to 8:30 p.m., March 24 and 31, and April 7, 21, 28 and May 5, City Gardener topics include everything from lawn fertilization, watering, growing food and flowers, insects and other pests. The fee is $5 per 2 ½-hour class, or $20 for all six. For more info: (317) 275-9290.

Warm temps tempt leaf and flower buds out of season

Daffodil leaves emerge prematurely, teased from the ground by warmer than normal temps. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Daffodil leaves emerge prematurely, teased from the ground by warmer than normal temps. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

It may be the holiday season, but many gardeners are concerned about the gifts Mother Nature is delivering a bit early.

The unseasonably warm temperatures have teased viburnum, forsythia, magnolia, daffodil and other plants out of their winter dormancy. Leaf and flower buds have burst open, particularly on species that normally bloom in late winter or early spring.

What to do?

A very light mulch of leaves acts like a little blanket around daffodils and other bulbs, said Becky Heath, co-owner for Brent and Becky’s Bulbs ( “It acts like layers of light clothing on humans, with those air pockets that help to keep the warmth in. Also, often it is the drying wind of winter that is harder on emerging leaves, more so than the temperatures alone,” she said.

Too much of a cover, though, will make the ground too warm and force the bulbs to grow even more, she said. Gardeners can snip off the tips of any damaged bulb leaves in spring, but only the tips. Or, people can do nothing.

“To me, it’s simply not worth the bother,” said Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Usually, you only get some leaf damage. If, for some reason, the bloom is damaged and you really need some yellow next spring, then buy a few pansies.”

For the most part, he said, plants, such as daffodils, are so tough that you will be surprised at how well they will handle these situations. “I think if next year is more or less normal, then plants will get back to their regular schedule.”

Perennials likely will recover without our doing anything. Cut back any winter-damaged foliage in spring and the perennials likely will bloom again at their normal time. Some hellebores are supposed to bloom this time of year, so that’s normal.

Trees and shrubs, though, are a bit more of a challenge. “My advice is to just roll with it,” Etienne said. “If it is a shrub or tree, there is really very little one do.”

Wrapping shrubs and trees is out of the realm of possibilities for most of us.

“I believe in accepting there is a limit to what you can do. Part of becoming a gardener, or even just having a few plants, is realizing you can only do so much. Nature is more powerful than you,” Etienne said.