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Aug 1, 2019

(July 27, 2019) With midsummer upon us, it's time to pour a glass of iced tea, sit on the porch and soak up some of the history that grows in the lush gardens of Indiana. Guest host Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, AKA the Hoosier Gardener, explores the rich horticultural heritage of the Hoosier state.

First stop on Jo Ellen's tour of Indiana's garden history: Zionsville. Turns out that the historic village (now a booming suburb of Indianapolis) played an important role in the development and marketing of flowers for use in home gardens. 

Nearly a century ago, Zionsville gained the nickname "Dahlia City," thanks to the success of two neighboring nurseries located in the village. Both produced not only dahlia tubers, but other showy flowers as well, which they sold locally and across the country through mail-order catalogs.

Zionsville became known as one of the best places to purchase tubers to produce colorful, spectacular blooms.

Jo Ellen Myers SharpThe story of Zionsville and the dahlias comes from Mark Zelonis, who joins Jo Ellen in studio to discuss Indiana's horticultural history. Mark has spent an entire career directing beautiful gardens, including those at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Mark is a frequent lecturer on gardens and landscape history and recently formed a new company, Cultural Excursions, through which he leads tours to gardens, museums and historic sites in the U.S. and Europe.

Mark tells how early 20th century promoters of the growing Zionsville community touted the town's attractiveness to potential new homeowners and businesses and probably coined the nickname "Dahlia City." The craze for dahlias eventually waned, however, and by the 1940s both nurseries had closed. 

Some of Zionsville's floral legacy has been sadly lost: it appears the dahlia variety Zion's Pride is no longer available in the trade. However, town officials recently named a new road on the south side of town Dahlia Drive to recognize this colorful aspect of the village's history.

Also joining Jo Ellen in studio: landscape architect David Gorden, co-owner of Mark M. Holeman Inc., landscape company

David GordonJo Ellen, Mark and David share stories of some of the state's most beautiful landscapes and how they convey a unique sense of place. Among the most culturally significant of these gardens: twenty "Hidden Treasures" that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. These include Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort WayneDeming Park in Terre Haute, and the Historic New Harmony Labyrinth.

Within the boundaries of Indianapolis, garden lovers can revel in the beauty of Garfield Park, designed by George Kessler, and Oldfields, the estate garden designed by Percival Gallagher of the famed Olmsted Brothers landscape firm.

Yet another important historic garden to explore with Jo Ellen and her guests: the recently restored Riverdale estate landscape designed by Jens Jensen, now part of the campus of Marian University. The Friends of Riverdale raised $1.4 million to restore the century-old landscape that recently won an award from Indiana Landmarks. Riverdale also figures into Hoosier racing history: it is the former estate of James A. Allison, one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Also on the agenda for discussion: the value of native plants in Indiana gardens. There's growing interest in these plants as gardeners, urban planners, horticulturist, garden centers, nurseries and landscape architects learn more about the role of native perennials, trees and shrubs in sustainable gardens. A good example is public interest in milkweed, the only family of plants beloved monarch butterflies use to lay their eggs.