A Day at Oldfields
Topic: Museums and Visual Arts
Recently I had the chance to visit the gardens surrounding the Lilly house known as Oldfields, which is located next to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Exploring these grounds is a tranquil and scenic way to spend some time in Indy, and is yet another fun thing to do this summer.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art. Oldfields is off frame to the right of this shot.
Oldfields was designed by Percival Gallagher of the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm. This means absolutely nothing to me -- I'm no landscape architecture history buff -- but this guy clearly knew what he was doing. The layout is at once highly structured (see "Allee") and naturalistic (see "Ravine Garden"). Before visiting I didn't really give much thought to landscape architecture (aside from the height setting on my lawn mower) but the thing I came to realize was that this kind of design is especially challenging because it requires one to imagine how plants might look years into the future. For example, the red oaks that line the allee were most likely planted around 1922. Did Gallagher have the year 2005 (and beyond) in mind when he chose the precise spots at which to plant each tree? Most definitely yes, as it looks fantastic today.
The Allee lined with red oaks, and in the distance, the Lilly House.
Oldfields is maintained by the IMA's Horticultural Society, and they've got a lot of ground to cover (some 26 acres). No doubt there's some serious pruning going on here, so around every hedge row I expected to see the army of gardeners responsible for taming these plants, but they never materialized. I imagine they were resting somewhere, drinking lemonade and nursing their sore hands.
No gardeners around the the pool house...
One of the most picturesque sections of Oldfields is Ravine Garden, located behind Lilly House. This steep slope is crisscrossed by walking paths, along which many varieties of plants and trees have taken root. At the bottom of the hill is a small stream, which (anticlimactically) turns out to be the Indianapolis Water Company's central canal. The centerpiece of Ravine Garden is a sparkling waterfall that snakes its way down the hill, with a small wooden bridge spanning the gap.
Waterfall at Ravine Garden.
The same waterfall, different perspective.
Up the ravine, and to the South of the Lilly House (just off the library) is the Formal Garden. This section of Oldfields reminded me of White River Gardens quite a bit with its geometrically perfect pathways and carefully trimmed plants. Several statues stand gaurd around the perimeter of the garden, but despite these defenses, I stumbled upon this unlucky artist who politely endured my request for a snapshot.
As if 26 acres wasn't enough, the IMA has plans to develop an art and nature park to the West of Oldfields (across the canal) which will end up being 100 acres of woodlands, wetlands, lakes, and meadows. From the way it's described, it sounds like this will be more of a preserve and less of a garden, which will stand to balance the IMA's outdoor attractions nicely.
After my visit I checked out the IMA website. It offers plenty of information about the gardens, their origin, and plans for future development. One thing I found interesting was their description of Oldfields as an example of the American Country Place era (late 1800s-early 1900s). Country places like Oldfields were built by wealthy businessmen who wanted to get out of the city for a little R&R, and had the kind of money required to create this kind of horticultural haven. Other examples of this style abound in the Midwest.
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