May 5, 2014


Centennial gardens to spruce up Governor's residence

Govenor's Garden plan
Photo provided
Wesley Silk (left) and Kate Myers pooled their talents to design a pair of gardens at the Governor’s Residence in Indianapolis that celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act.

By Tom Campbell

The Governor’s residence in Indianapolis will soon be an example of what a pair of Purdue horticulture students are able to do with a little space, a little money and a lot of plants.

In February, Wesley Silk, a senior from Kentland, Indiana, and Kate Myers, BS ’14, from Akron, Indiana, were assigned to design a pair of centennial gardens for Governor Mike Pence and his wife, Karen. The assignment was a capstone project in Horticulture 425.

Professor Mike Dana asked the pair to design gardens that would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which funded the Cooperative Extension Service at the nation’s land-grant universities.

“This capstone focuses on service learing. Each fall, I solicit projects from Extension staff and Master Gardeners throughout the state, to see what’s in the works in their areas,” Dana said. “Some projects may be libraries, courthouses or other government buildings that are being constructed or redesigned.”

Purdue Extension staff members in Marion County had been looking for ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Extension for more than a year. Lydia Armstrong thought centennial garden at the Governor’s Residence would be a perfect way to honor the Smith-Lever Act.

“On a volunteer basis, our Master Gardener program maintains the gardens on the grounds of the governor’s residence, so we have always had a great relationship with the governor,” said Armstrong, development officer for Purdue Extension in Marion County. “I approached Mrs. Pence with the idea, and she loved it.”

Marion County staff members had worked with a pair of Horticulture 425 students on a different project last year. So Armstrong went back to Dana and told him about the plans for the governor’s gardens.

There is no guarantee that the designs created for the class will actually be implemented, but the experience the process provides each student is a priceless piece of their education.

Govenor's Garden plan
Photo provided - click on map for larger view

When completed later this month, the intersection of 46th and Meridian streets will be much more colorful, thanks to this garden design developed by two Purdue horticulture and landscape architecture students.

“From initial contact with the client, through creating the designs and concluding with a presentation to the clients, each student team is required to face the real world challenges," Dana said.

“The fact that ours was accepted and the gardens will actually be built is really neat,” said Myers, who learned first-hand about Extension as a 10-year 4-H member growing up in Fulton County, Indiana.

Soon after the assignments were distributed, Silk and Myers visited the residence to get the lay of the land. It did not go especially well.

“We couldn’t see where the actual gardens would be,” Myers said. “They were covered with about 18 inches of snow.”

Working with the Master Gardeners and a budget of $1,500 that would be provided by Purdue Extension in Marion County, the original plan was to use plants that were available 100 years ago when Extension was established. But after viewing the garden areas in person, Silk and Myers had to make revisions.

“We overestimated the amount of sunlight the location gets,” Silk said, “so we had to change our plans somewhat to provide some plants that would thrive with less than optimum sun exposure.”

In April, Silk and Myers sent two design proposals listing all of the plants they intended to use in the garden to Mrs. Pence and the Master Gardeners.

It was quite a list. Silk and Myers not only provided the names of 30 to 40 species of plants, but they also sent a blooming calendar that showed when the gardens would be at peak color conditions.

By planting several bluestar flowers and daylilies among the hundred or so individual plants, Silk and Myers were able to highlight something truly Hoosier.

“We tried to utilize a lot of blues and golds to keep with the colors of the Indiana state flag,” Silk said.

Both garden areas are situated between the residence and Meridian Street, one of the most heavily trafficked roadways in Indianapolis.

“We wanted to design these gardens with motorists and pedestrians in mind, too,” said Myers. “Mrs. Pence told us she wanted the gardens to be colorful and to be seen from the road.”

Pence also found about $1,000 in the maintenance budget of the grounds and added it to the centennial gardens project to help offset the cost of planting annual flowers.

On April 24, Silk and Myers made their final presentation to Mrs. Pence and representatives of the Marion County Master Gardeners inside the residence. At least it started inside.

“We were kind of nervous waiting, kind of cooped up in the living room of the governor’s residence,” Myers said.

But Mrs. Pence quickly put the group at ease. Returning from a bicycle ride on what was a rare, beautiful spring day in Indianapolis, Pence parked her bike, walked into the house wearing her workout gear and proclaimed, “Let’s do this outside.”

“After that,” Myers said, “the presentation was pretty easy.”

“This is a great project for the Master Gardeners of Marion County,” said Dana. “I think having their own garden that commemorates the Extension centennial should give them extra impetus to make it a real showplace, something we can all be proud of.”

Armstrong said the entire project should be completed sometime in May 2014.



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