Art in Parks


Yes, school has started, but Mother Nature is still on summer vacation. A look at a multitude of lush gardens surrounding us proves there are weeks of the blooming season left. If you’re looking for some last call summer destinations then check out the following:

1. White River Gardens (www.in.gov/whiteriver), Indianapolis

White River Gardens 1 You won’t want to miss this small but awe-inspiring section of the Indianapolis Zoo. The heat and humidity that’s wilted visitors has had the opposite effect on many of the plants still blooming profusely. Combine their hot colors with the cooling effects of water and you’ve got a winning scene. If only we could lie back like that ever-so-relaxed frog on the edge of the pond.

And then head south to…

2. Nashville, Indiana (www.browncounty.com)

Brown County 1 This is Brown County, wildly popular for autumn’s leaf-peepers. But right now, Nashville’s art colony is embellished with the brilliance of summer’s bounty, a-to-z, as in asters to zinnias.

The town is full of craft stores and talented artists, all in a setting that is in itself a piece of art. Nashville has long been known as the Art Colony of the Midwest. There are more than 250 boutiques, art galleries and gift shops with one-of-a-kind pieces, folk art, fine art and antiques.

“An overnight stay puts visitors on Brown County time,” says Debbie Dunbar, director of marketing and communications for the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Brown County offers the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle and calls you to relax and reconnect,” she adds.

Nine miles west of Nashville is the story of Brown County’s beginnings as an artists’ colony at the…

3. T.C. Steele State Historic Site (www.indianamuseum.org/sites/tcst.html), near Belmont, Indiana

Gathered artists painting TC Steele site 1 You won’t want to miss home and site curator Andrea Smith deTarnowsky’s lively narration as she introduces the artist through his paintings, personal items and Brown County surroundings.

T.C. Steele came to paint, then designed a house and supervised its construction – something he’d never done before. He was, says the curator, “a little fuzzy on some of the practical areas.”

The house was small with only four rooms. A screened-in porch wrapped around three sides. When the breeze would come up over the hill it would hit the wire screening and cause it to vibrate and make a humming sound, thus, “The House of the Singing Winds.”

DeTarnowsky also introduces Steele’s wife and her gardens, now known as the Selma Steele Nature Preserve. The gardens, Selma’s creative outlet, often became subjects for her husband’s canvases.

Then head north for the…

4. Quilt Gardens Tour (www.AmishCountry.org/quiltgardens), Elkhart County, Indiana

Elkhart Co. quilt gardens 1 It’s a natural here in Amish country – quilts. But Elkhart County does one better, or is it two? – as it goes beyond fabric with the addition of not only flowers, but also murals.

“This is basically a rural area – quilting and gardening are rural arts that marry so well,” says Jackie Hughes of the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Quilters are gardeners and gardeners are quilters. There’s a real symbiotic relationship there. There’s sensitivity to that – get your hands in the soil and get your hands in needle and thread.”

The project began in 2008 with 12 flower gardens and 11 painted murals depicting a variety of quilt patterns. The numbers have increased to 17 gardens and 17 murals, spread throughout the county. The tour is free, with markers at each site providing information about the quilt or mural. There are statistics about the flowers themselves, an explanation of the quilt pattern, and comments from the muralist.

The ever-popular marigold is perhaps the gardeners’ favorite, but there are also petunias, begonias, zinnias, salvia, dusty miller, ageratum and coleus. As the plants grow, the gardens get more and more vibrant, and they’re at their peak right now. Walking paths of grass or mulch have been incorporated into the patterns so people can walk right into the “quilts.”

And then, to the north, is the crème de la crème of sculpture gardens at…

5. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (www.meijergardens.org), Grand Rapids, Michigan

Meijer horse You’ll find Fred Meijer waiting on a park bench – yes, he of the Meijer discount stores – cast in bronze for perpetuity. He appears relaxed and welcoming, just like the remarkable art park that carries his name.

There’s always a sense of merriment here. Even more so now, through the end of September, with Dale Chihuly’s colorful glass creations. Think Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

This year-round treasure for the senses was born 15 years ago out of two desires and came to be through a marriage made in arts heaven.

In 1983 Greenville, Mich., Meijer’s birthplace, bought a sculpture titled The Ugly Duckling to commemorate its Danish festival. Meijer agreed to pay for it and quickly became enamored of the art form. Soon he had amassed a personal collection of sculptures, but alas, had nowhere to display them. “I was lining them up, so to speak, in the garage,” he says.

Enter the West Michigan Horticultural Society looking for a place to plant flowers.

Voila! In a creative union that showcases two major art forms, Meijer donated land for a conservatory and the horticulturists agreed to display Meijer’s sculpture collection amidst its plantings. In 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park was born. It is acres and acres of blooms and bronzes, stems and statues, flowers and frescoes. It’s biggest draw is undoubtedly the 24-foot-tall Leonardo da Vinci horse.

“Art combined with nature is our specialty,” says public relations specialist Amy Sawade. “As summer comes to a close, Meijer Gardens will not be lacking color, wonder and excitement. The large-scale outdoor exhibition by Dale Chihuly will look fabulous against late summer blooms and the beautiful fall colors.”

There’s serious stuff here to be sure, with artistic and horticultural experts obviously at work. But it’s all presented in a casual, unconstrained setting that inspires delight. This place is just plain fun to visit.

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This article was written by elizabethgranger

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