Benton House Historic Garden
312 South Downey Avenue
A green initiative of the Irvington Garden Club
A few of the plants growing within this unique garden were in cultivation over 400 years ago; whereas, others were introduced to gardeners in the 1700’s. Most, however, date to the 1800’s. All are fitting companions to the historic Benton House (1873) and each, if plants could talk, could tell us stories of intrigue, folklore, plant explorers who traveled the globe, their medicinal uses and, for some, their religious significance.
Within the garden are significant numbers of iris, daylily, hosta, daffodil, and other genus commonly found growing in gardens prior to year 1900.
The garden’s “fernery”, adjacent to Ohmer Avenue, is home to several Indiana native ferns including the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), and the leathery like fronds of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthlopteris). Additionally, the site displays many of the garden’s species hosta which are native to Asia and especially Japan. Several of the earliest are: H. tibea (1830’s), H. sieboldiana (1830), H. verticosta (1790), H. plantagenia (1784), a very fragrant night blooming species, and the rare in the wild, H. nigrescens.
Last year saw the addition of Hosta aequinoctiiantha, the small leafed H. gracililma, H. nakaiana, and H. minor which has purple-red dots on its petioles.
As you travel the “fernery” you will notice the closed blossoms of nocturnal blooming Hemerocallis citrina (1897). Nearby you’ll witness the flower buds of H. middendorffii (1856) as it prepares to re-bloom.
In 2014 we planted H. coreana (1897) whose flowers are a wax-like greenish-yellow, H. hakuuensis, H. altissima which blooms mid to late season, and the fragrant blooming yezoensis.
Of course we cannot forget to comment on our significant display of fifty species and cultivars of heirloom iris.* The earliest, Swertii, dates back to 1612. Others include Amoena (1812), Bridesmaid, bearing pale, silvery lavender flowers, Edina (1840), Kashmiriana (1877), and Mrs. Neubronner (1898) known for its deep, golden-yellow flowers. This season we anticipated adding rhizomes of Mexicana (pre 1859), Innocenze (1854), Khaput (1895) and Fries Morel (1840).
The dappled light of the home’s shade gardens are illuminated by Indiana native wildflowers including sky blue Virginia bluebells, Dutchman’s Breeches, Prairie Trilliums, Mayapples, and the bright golden paper-like blossoms of Celandine poppies.
Those visiting the garden in the spring are in for a special treat when thousands of daffodils are in bloom. They include the species Albus Plenus Odoratus (1600s) and Van Soin (1620), and twenty-four cultivars including Albatross (1891), White Lady (1897), and 1890’s Lucifer, bred by an Irish hybridizer.
Minor bulbs in bloom during our “awakening season” include Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop), “Flore Pleno”, grape hyacinths (muscari), and crocus flavus “Yellow Mammoth (1665).
The Benton House, a designated national historic site, is the property of the Irvington Historic Landmark Foundation and is available for public events including weddings, reunions, and birthday parties. For information contact the home’s manager at 317-353-1210.
* Our iris collection, one of few such plantings in the United States, has been designated a “display garden” by the Historic Iris Preservation Society. Aside from several commercial gardens, others include the Olmsted and Longfellow National Historic Sites and Tufton Farms at Jefferson’s Monticello. For additional information about the garden call its Steward, Ed Myers, at 317-503-6139.