It may not sound impressive when Irvin Etienne mentions that he is responsible for the horticultural displays at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. But you’ll be forgiven for not knowing that the museum has a little acreage. Just a little.
“We actually have 152 acres,” Etienne told an appreciative audience at this morning’s Farwest Seminars. “It’s not your average museum, so come for a visit.”
The museum sits on the grounds of a turn-of-the-century estate home in Indianapolis. The grounds were originally designed by the Olmstead brothers’ firm, but eventually entered a state of decline before being purchased by the museum. These gardens have been restored by Etienne and the museum over the past 20 years. Despite such restoration efforts, not all of the plants had, or have, the benefit of hospitable soil or growing conditions. And that’s why Etienne has found use for the concept of “Thug-a-licious” plants — the concept he was in Portland to discuss today.
Thugs, he said, are “plants that can get a little out of hand, but are tough, so you can use them in situations where other plants will not work.” Such situations include, but are not limited to, hell strips, hard soil, dry shade, or worse.
The highlighted genuses in Etienne’s presentation included Anemone, Arundo donax, Brunnera, Carex, Diarrhena, Eupatorium, Foeniculum, Heuchera, Liriope, Lysimachia, macleaya, matteuccia, Monarda, Petasites, Rudbeckia, Stylophorum, Symphytum, Rhus and many others.
“The nice thing about thugs is you can just rip them out when they’re not doing what you need them to do any longer,” Etienne said.
He also employs the principle of plant thugs in his own personal yard, which is lawn-free and often overgrown. It’s gotten so bad at times that the post office has been unable to deliver mail to his front porch.
“I have paths,” Etienne said. “Other people just can’t see them.”