Unlock your inner zen or green thumb in these gorgeous floral retreats
Indiana’s diverse botanical gardens range from meandering prairie paths to perfectly manicured rows of flowers, but they all offer brilliant colors, plentiful space to explore and a restful stop on your group itinerary.
An immense glass structure influenced by turn-of-the-20thcentury urban greenhouses, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in Fort Wayne is populated with over 500 plant species from across three continents.
The complex is divided into three themed indoor areas with a distinct layout and climate in addition to outdoor and seasonal displays. An arid environment containing Saguaro cacti, prickly pear trees and jojoba shrubs, the Desert Garden is filled with hundreds of species that are otherwise impossible to grow in the Midwest, while the Tropical Garden teems with diverse fruit orchards, cacao plants and 13 palm varieties.
Designed by famed German landscape architect George Kessler, Garfield Park Conservatory is the oldest city park in Indianapolis and welcomes group tours throughout the year. The park was inspired by the classical European greenspaces of Paris and Vienna, with elegant fountains and symmetrical flowerbeds accented by concrete urns decorated with the German symbol of prosperity: an oak leaf and acorn. The garden’s most famous feature is the sunken gardens, which are populated with tulips, annuals or mums depending on the season. Groups can also tour the Victorian-style greenhouse, which contains carnivorous pitcher plants, sago palms and the Bodhi tree, the same species Gautama Buddha sat under when he achieved enlightenment.
Nearby are the White River Gardens, a three-acre retreat operated in conjunction with the Indianapolis Zoo. Groups will want to savor the property’s Hilbert Conservatory, a 65-foot-tall greenhouse filled with aromatic tropical greenery and 40 butterffy species that flutter against the Indianapolis skyline.
The greenhouse’s mezzanine level is populated with ferns, orchids and palms, and guests will also want to admire the towering beech trees of the Ruth Lilly Shade Garden or eye-popping tulips of the water garden. Before leaving, stop by the Heritage Garden to see species native to Indiana (like purple coneflower and hollyhock) in addition to historic specimens transplanted from the Benjamin Harrison Home.
Follow the White River north to Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park at Newfields, a 100-acre retreat of flower beds, meditation trails and sculptures created by internationally renowned artists. Stop for a group photo next to the Sutphin Fountain—a modernist water feature surrounded by Grecian wildflowers, paperback maples and lavender. Groups can also reserve a tour of the property’s Lilly House and Gardens, the restored country estate of famous Indiana industrialist Josiah Lilly. The grounds retain their 1940s landscaping, and docent-led tours include the Orchard (a post-war-style tract that grows sunflowers and vegetables), the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse (which offers horticultural programming for groups) and the quadrant-style Four Seasons Garden.
Indiana’s Northern region also boasts several group-friendly gardens to explore. Gabis Arboretum, operated by Purdue University Northwest, oversees 330 acres of preserved wetlands and prairies that groups can hike through on a variety of trails. Themed areas include three visually distinct rose gardens, the Native Plant Garden (home to hundreds of Indiana species and a monarch butterfly waystation) and the Railway Garden (where a G-gauge model trains pass through elaborate miniaturized pioneer villages). Birdwatchers will want to venture into the native prairie grass trails to spot warblers, bobolinks and purple finches.
The nearby Friendship Botanical Gardens in Michigan City is a collection of over a dozen “ethnic gardens” that represent their home nation with native plants and art installations. Developed in parallel with the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to symbolize international unity, the property contains Dutch tulips and rare Persian roses overseen by England’s royal gardener. The gardens host nature walks and a variety of group-friendly concerts throughout warm-weather months.
Created to honor Mishawaka’s Japanese sister city, Shiojiri Niwa is a restful landscape of floral displays, bridges and serene waterways. The garden’s pruned pines, ornate teahouse and red bridges modeled after Matsumoto Castle exemplify the signature characteristics of Japanese landscaping: balance, tranquility and minimalism. This is also displayed in the gardens’ “Rule of Five” plant groupings (to symbolize the elements of fire, water, wind, earth and sky) and crooked paths (evil spirits can only move straight in Japanese folklore). Arrange a group tour to learn more about Japan’s rich horticultural tradition.
Continue to nearby Elkhart to tour Wellfield Botanic Gardens, a 36-acre living museum that features 25 themed areas that border the meandering Christiana Creek. Commissioned to honor the 100th anniversary of Rotary International, the property includes reflective pools, sculptures and preserved wetlands. Themed areas include the Lotus Creek (a peaceful waterfront shaded by hickories), the Sensory Garden (which encourages guests to smell herbs and touch tactile sculptures) and the Japanese-inspired Island Garden. One-hour group tours are available for parties of 10 or more.