Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a day with Irvin Etienne, the Horticultural Display Coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art before speaking there that evening. Irvin is a long time PPA friend and I had never visited his garden although I had heard about it and had seen some pictures of it.
Irvin is also a plantaholic but his passion is tropicals. You cannot find a blade of turf in either the front or back yards. Instead, you journey through a tropical forest that also happens to include some hardy perennials and shrubs but even these frequently have a tropical feeling.
At the front gate, I was immediately entranced by his combination of Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’ and Salvia ‘Black and Blue’. I love chartreuse foliage and it contrasts so well with the bright blue Salvia. Further, I was delighted to learn that Irvin has overwintered this Salvia for two years so I will definitely give it a try next year.
Each step through the garden brought new discoveries. Tinantia pringlei coll. #A1M-77 (Mexican Speckled Wandering Jew, available from Plant Delights, was a groundcovering filler that I had never seen before. When happy, it spreads delightfully and the dark foliage is a great foil for lighter colored plants like the chartreuse branch of Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’.
Another tropical new to me was Tripogandra (Streaked False Bromeliad), available from Glassworks. It doesn’t look like a bromeliad at all; in fact, it looks more like a huge striped Wandering Jew.
Irvin is a master at layering. He loves tall plants and uses many but below them are many other plants with contrasting foliage colors and textures. For instance, at the back of one section is Alocasia ‘Mayan Mask’. This year it is six feet tall with huge, dark green, scalloped leaves with a purple underside. In front of it is a large leaved yellow Hosta. On either side there is an array of smaller foliage plants.
Irvin also loves tropicals with large leaves. He has an amazing collection of cannas, many of which he has gotten from Brian’s Botanicals. A wonderful example of color echo is on the other side of the front yard: Canna ‘Tropicana’ with its huge orange and green striped leaves, Iris spuria with orange flowers in early summer, Geranium ‘Vancouver Centennial’ with foliage that is mostly orange with a green edge as well as orange flowers from May to frost, and Sanchezia speciosa, a green and white variegated tropical with bright orange stems.
The back yard is even wilder than the front. It is full of the tall Lantana ‘Miss Huff’, blue bottle trees, and Canna ‘Pretoria’ as well as two cultivars of Arundo donax, ‘Peppermint Stick’ and ‘Variegata’.
Visiting this garden was quite an adventure.