History of the Horticultural Society and the IMA Gardens and Grounds

Since its founding in 1972, the Horticultural Society has engaged in a variety of activities in support of its mission.  Below is a timeline of important moments in the history of the property the IMA occupies, the founding of the IMA Horticultural Society and its significant activities. Note:  This historical timeline relies heavily on a brochure prepared for the IMA by Irving M. Springer (Mrs. Frank C., Jr.), entitled “Blueprint for Tomorrow,” and material assembled by former director of horticulture Chuck Gleaves for the Master Plan.

The IMA’s gardens and grounds are renowned for their beauty and history. The 152-acre complex includes: Oldfields, a 26-acre American Country Place estate that has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 26-acre main campus and the 100-acre Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park.

1907 Indianapolis Water Company, Mr. Linneus Boyd, and Mr. Hugh McKay Landon purchase 140 acres on both sides of the Indianapolis Water Company Canal immediately north of Maple Road (now 38th Street) and the Indianapolis Country Club (now the Woodstock Club). Boyd and Landon take 40 acres of the highland on the east bank of the canal. The water company retains 100 acres of the lowland, intending to use it as a reservoir.

1909 Boyd and Landon sell an interest to Dr. Lafayette Page and incorporate their properties as the town of Woodstock. They construct a road from Michigan Road to Maple Road. Mr. and Mrs. Boyd construct a residence on the site of the present Indianapolis Museum of Art. Dr. and Mrs. Page choose a wooded property on the east side of the new road; theirs is the first residence completed in Woodstock.

1912 The Landons build Oldfields estate. Also referred to as the Lilly House, this building housed the IMA’s decorative arts collection until 1999.

1920 Landon hires Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Mass., to design the 26-acre grounds of Oldfields. Landscape architect Percival Gallagher develops the Ravine Garden, the Formal Garden, and the entire grounds.

1932 Josiah K. Lilly Jr. (grandson of the founder of Eli Lilly and Company) purchases Oldfields. The Lillys expand Oldfields (both the house and the land), adding a party house and the Garden Pavilion, which housed the former Garden Terrace restaurant.

1939 The Lillys build Newfield residence for their son J. K. Lilly III. Landscaper Miss Anne Bruce Haldeman of Louisville plants a double row of elms from the entrance of Newfield to its gate at 38th Street. She also designs the Four Seasons Garden by the Garden Pavilion. Later Mr. and Mrs. Guernsey VanRiper (Ruth Lilly) occupy Newfield for some years. Newfield housed the Better Than New Shop for several years, but today, it is home to the Horticultural Society Library and the administrative offices of the IMA Horticulture Department.

1956 J. K. Lilly III buys and razes the William Hifield house, situated on former Boyd property. He later buys and razes the remaining houses in Woodstock, preserving the fine trees and major plantings.

1967 Mrs. VanRiper and Mr. Lilly III donate the Woodstock lands to the Art Association of Indianapolis, which later becomes the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Mrs. Springer’s account says the property was donated to Herron Museum of Art with the proviso that a museum be under construction within the year.) To assist and advise the architects, a Grounds Committee is formed: Mrs. Bowman Elder, Mrs. Eli Lilly, Mrs. Herman Krannert, Mrs. Frank C. Springer Jr., Mr. Burton Beck, Mr. Allen Clowes, Mr. John Mead, and Colonel A.W.S. Herrington.

1970s Main museum buildings and parking lot are completed.

1972 The Indianapolis general contracting company Huber, Hunt and Nichols donates the “Island,” 100 acres of flood plain west of the museum.

Horticultural Society Founded, Rescues the Greenhouse

1972 The Horticultural Society is founded to help develop the Greenhouse and grounds. Mrs. Bowman Elder and Mrs. Frank C. Springer Jr., are key players. The museum chose not to operate the Greenhouse and discussed its removal. Volunteers and the IMA Horticultural Society banded together to continue its operation.

1977 IMA joins the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA), now the American Public Gardens Association.

1978 On April 14, the IMA grounds are officially designated as The Eli Lilly Botanical Garden, to commemorate the late Eli Lilly, brother of Josiah K. Lilly Jr.

1987 The Grounds Committee of the IMA Board of Trustees selects the landscape firm of Johnson Johnson & Roy Inc., of Ann Arbor, Mich., to develop a long-range master plan to accommodate the new use of the museum grounds as a botanical garden and to provide a better setting for a major art museum. The plan is to serve as a guide for all future development on the museum grounds. The Horticultural Society raises $65,000 from its members to fund the plan.

1989 Inaugural issue of the Horticultural Society newsletter, The Lilly Pad, is published under the editorship of Gilbert Daniels.

1993 The Garden for Everyone is dedicated, designed by landscape architect and Horticultural Society member Claire Bennett.

1994 The Richard Wood Formal Garden is dedicated. Recreating the mood of photographs taken in 1927, the garden was rebuilt and replanted with funding by the Eli Lilly and Company in honor of CEO Richard Wood, who was retiring. (See Chuck Gleaves’ detailed history in the Winter 1994 Lilly Pad at the IMA Horticultural Society Library.) Additional funding was provided by Richard and Billie Lou Wood and by the Horticultural Society (see references to the Arbor Fund in 1993 minutes), which funded a portion of the recreated historic arbors.

1994 IMA horticultural staff hosts the regional meetings of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta. The Horticultural Society funds the honorarium of keynote speaker Marco Polo de Stefano, renowed horticulturist from Wave Hill.

1995 Construction is completed on a new retail and administrative wing of the Greenhouse. The design preserves the original glass houses. The Greenhouse operates on the income from plant sales and from an endowment by Madeline F. (Mrs. Bowman) Elder. The museum provides administrative support, capital improvements and assistance with building maintenance.

Recent History and Accomplishment

The Ravine Garden, a historical garden and a major feature of the Oldfields estate, was restored in 1998 with generous funding from George and Peggy Rapp, IMA Horticultural Society members. Located behind Lilly House, the one-acre Rapp Family Ravine Garden was designed by Percival Gallagher in the 1920s.

1997 Mark Zelonis succeeds Chuck Gleaves as the museum’s Director of Horticulture.

1999 After more than 20 years in the lower level of Oldfields, a space that the Hort Soc renovated to house its board meetings, dinners, lectures, and its volumes of horticultural and design books, the Horticultural Library moves to accommodate the restoration of the mansion. The Museum provides temporary quarters on the lower level of the Better Than New Shop (Newfield). Hort Soc receives a generous bequest from George Smith, in memory of his wife Marguerite, to support library acquisitions and the lecture series. Hort Soc funds a summer intern for the IMA gardens, and makes a contribution honoring the memory of IMA horticulturist Hollis Schuh. Oldfields is awarded a Centennial Medallion by the Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, recognizing the estate as one of Indiana’s most outstanding works of landscape architecture. Restoration of the Oldfields Ravine Garden is completed and celebrated with a dedication ceremony. It is christened the George and Peggy Rapp Family Ravine Garden.

2000 Funds raised at the Horticultural Society Auction Benefit pay for the recreation of the Diana Robing statue that graces the path toward the Ravine Garden.

2002 Funds raised at the Horticultural Society Auction Benefit go toward a plan to renew the Four Seasons Garden adjacent to the Lilly Playhouse on the grounds of Oldfields.

2003 Horticultural Society moves to its new library and meeting quarters on the lower level of The Garden Terrace Restaurant (Lilly Playhouse) and celebrates its 30th anniversary with a gift of $30,000 to the IMA.

2005 The IMA hosts the Annual Conference of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.

2006 The Horticultural Society sponsors the installation of the “Overlook Garden”, located on the north side of the Deer Zink Events Pavilion. Funds raised at the Horticultural Society Auction Benefit pay for lightening protection for the museum’s largest trees.

2008 The Horticultural Society’s Auction Benefit secures major sponsorship from Mark M. Holeman, Inc.  Proceeds of the benefit are used to restore the fountain at the end of the Oldfields Allee. Nonie’s Garden is created in memory of Nonie Krauss in the island outside the Museum’s main entrance.

2010 After years of imagining, planning and construction, 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park is opened. The Horticultural Society’s Auction Benefit is renamed A Garden Affair.  Proceeds fund site amenities in 100 Acres. Oldfield’s East Vegetable Garden is restored through the generosity of Rosemary and Gene Tanner and renamed the Tanner Orchard. The J. Irwin Miller House and Gardens in Columbus, Ind., having been recently acquired by the IMA, is opened for public touring.

2011 The IMA was the host to events for the 63rd annual Garden Writers Association symposium.


The newly restored Four Seasons Garden was dedicated in 2012 and renamed the Dickinson Four Seasons Garden in honor of the generosity of Helen and Richard Dickinson.

A Garden Affair raises funds for upgrades to the Horticultural Maintenance Facility. The newly restored Four Seasons Garden is dedicated and renamed the Dickinson Four Seasons Garden in honor of the generosity of Helen and Richard Dickinson.




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