White River Gardens

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White River Gardens
White River Gardens entrance.jpg
White River Gardens in 2007
Interactive map highlighting the gardens within White River State Park
TypeBotanical garden
LocationWhite River State Park
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Coordinates39°45′58″N 86°10′34″W / 39.766°N 86.176°W / 39.766; -86.176
Area3.3 acres (1.3 ha)[1]
OpenedJune 13, 1999; 23 years ago (1999-06-13)[1]
DesignerWoollen, Molzan and Partners
Rundell Ernstberger Associates
Owned byIndianapolis Zoological Society
Operated byIndianapolis Zoo
OpenDaily, seasonal hours vary
StatusClosed for construction
Paths1.5 miles (2.4 km)[2]
Public transit accessLocal Transit IndyGo 8
CostUS$15 million[1]
FacilitiesHilbert Conservatory

White River Gardens is a botanical garden located at White River State Park in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.[4] Established in 1999, the gardens are managed and operated by the Indianapolis Zoo.[2] In 2021, White River Gardens' 3.3 acres (1.3 ha) was home to nearly 50,000 plants of more than 3,000 species.[3] The complex includes a conservatory, fountains and water features, outdoor gardens, a dining and event facility, and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of paths. The gardens are situated to the east of the zoo's entry plaza on the western bank of the White River overlooking downtown Indianapolis.[5][2]


White River Gardens, circa 1999

White River Gardens' beginnings date to the early-1990s as Indianapolis Zoo officials sought to bring more public attention to the interdependence of plant and animal habitats. The inaugural Bloomfest, hosted in the spring of 1992, was among the zoo's first efforts to heighten awareness.[6] Hired as the zoo's new president and chief executive officer in January 1993, Jeffrey Bonner envisioned several additions to the zoo, including a botanical garden.[7]

In October 1996, the Indianapolis Zoo received accreditation as a botanical garden from the American Association of Museums. Plans for White River Gardens were announced in December 1996 with a $5 million gift from the Lilly Endowment.[8] In April 1997, Stephen and Tomisue Hilbert pledged $3 million to support construction.[5]

In October 1997, the Indianapolis Zoological Society oversaw the groundbreaking of White River Gardens on the site of a surface parking lot.[8] The project was the first major expansion since the opening of the Indianapolis Zoo at White River State Park in 1988. The $15 million design borrowed inspiration from Indiana's agricultural landscape.[1]

White River Gardens opened to the public on June 13, 1999.[1]

Originally opened as a standalone attraction, admission and membership to the gardens were maintained separately from the neighboring Indianapolis Zoo. However, in 2007, the zoo introduced a streamlined fee structure that incorporated White River Gardens into the zoo's single-visit admission and annual membership rates.[9][2] The gardens' Dick Crum Resource Center closed in 2010.[10]

Since September 2021, White River Gardens has been closed to allow for the construction of a new entry plaza to the zoo and gardens, scheduled for completion in spring 2023.[11]


Hilbert Conservatory[edit]

"Butterfly Kaleidoscope" at Hilbert Conservatory in 2009

Hilbert Conservatory was designed by Indianapolis architectural firm Woollen, Molzan and Partners.[1] The glass-enclosed conservatory contains a 65-foot (20 m) ceiling and totals 5,000 square feet (460 m2) in size.[12][13][14]

Hilbert Conservatory hosts "Butterfly Kaleidoscope," an annual exhibit that features over 13,000 butterflies from over 40 different species found throughout the world.[15]

Outdoor gardens[edit]

One of the missions of the garden is to provide inspiration and ideas to gardeners on how to design their own gardens through design and traditional methods.[12] Indianapolis-based Rundell Ernstberger Associates served as the landscape architect for the project, designing the outdoor gardens.[1]

The Christel DeHaan Family Foundation Tiergarten contains nine themed gardens:[16]

  • Allen W. Clowes Water Garden – water garden
  • Dan and Lori Efroymson Wedding Garden – garden room
  • Indianapolis Garden Club Heritage Garden
  • Indianapolis Zoological Guild Hedge Garden
  • Knot Garden – knot garden
  • Ornamental Allée
  • Polly Horton Hix Design Garden
  • Shade Garden – shade garden
  • Sun Garden

Public art[edit]

Dale Enochs' Earth Stone in the DeHaan Tiergarten

Several pieces of art were commissioned as part of White River Gardens. Andrew Reid's Midwestern Panorama, a cylindrical 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) mural located inside the Bud Schaefer Rotunda, depicts native Indiana flora and fauna cycling through the four seasons.[17]

Glass artist Dave McLary's Capital Campaign Donors Recognition Window consists of four 22-foot (6.7 m)-by-6-foot (1.8 m) panels etched with springtime scenes emblematic of Indiana.

Dale Enochs contributed several pieces, including seven water tables, 40 sculptural stones, and 100 individual limestone bricks. Enochs' Earth Stone, a 12-foot (3.7 m)-tall limestone sculpture, serves as a focal point in the outdoor gardens.

Sculptor Jan Martin produced 49 bronze anthropomorphic animals "to bring humor and whimsy to the Gardens". Martin also fabricated four 24-foot (7.3 m)-tall trellises and five 14-foot (4.3 m)-tall vining leaf sculptures of stainless steel.

Amy Brier's interactive Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter are four individual limestone spheres situated in urns of sand atop pedestals. Each sphere's carvings depict native flora corresponding to its season.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Mullen, Ruth (June 5, 1999). "From the ground up". The Indianapolis Star. pp. 53, 56. Retrieved October 22, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. As principal designer of White River Gardens, Eric Ernstberger was faced with the daunting challenge of building a 3.3-acre oasis in a former parking lot. His mission? To create a showcase garden that would reflect Indiana's agrarian roots, yet still capture the urban sensibility of Indianapolis. The resulting $15 million garden and building complex... (...) White River Gardens includes a $5.6 million building complex with a 5,000-square-foot glass conservatory designed by Woollen, Molzan and Partners. A cornerstone of White River State Park, the gardens will open to the public June 13.
  2. ^ a b c d Hurst, Richard M.; Hillier-Geisler, Megan (2021) [1994]. "Indianapolis Zoo". Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indianapolis Public Library. Retrieved October 22, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c "2021 Indianapolis Zoo Annual Report". Indianapolis Zoo. p. 27. Retrieved October 22, 2022.
  4. ^ "Discover the White River Garden | Our Facilities". Indianapolis Zoo. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Hilberts' gift of $3 million to help build zoo gardens". The Indianapolis Star. April 22, 1997. p. 25. Retrieved October 23, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Conseco Chairman Stephen Hilbert has donated $3 million toward planned botanical gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo. The zoo announced the donation from Hilbert and his wife, Tomisue, on Monday. The three-acre White River Gardens is planned for the west bank of the river adjacent to the zoo.
  6. ^ Meyers Sharp, Jo Ellen (March 20, 1992). "Things are bloomin' at the zoo". The Indianapolis Star. pp. 35, 37. Retrieved October 23, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Welcome to Bloomfest at the Indianapolis Zoo. 'We want to heighten the attention to the grounds and plant kingdom at the zoo,' says Kevin Harmon, senior gardener at the zoo. The two-month celebration of plants will begin April 4. Its goal is to acknowledge the importance of the flora to the fauna, says Harmon.
  7. ^ Ambrose, Eileen (March 3, 1993). "New zoo leader has visions of 'something extraordinary'". The Indianapolis News. pp. A1–A2. Retrieved October 23, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Since taking over in January as president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoo, Bonner has plenty of ideas on how to take the zoo into the next century. He envisions an Omnimax theater, botanical garden and added aquariums.
  8. ^ a b Reeder, Suzanne (December 27, 1996). "Gardens will sprout at the Indianapolis Zoo". The Indianapolis News. pp. 55–56. Retrieved October 23, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. The three-acre addition will be on the White River levee that flanks the east side of the zoo, as well as what is now part of the zoo's parking lot. (...) The zoo has received a $5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, which is contingent upon the zoo raising $2.5 million by Oct. 31, 1997. (...) Accreditation for the botanical garden was received in October 1996.
  9. ^ Penner, Diana (December 18, 2006). "Zoo is revising admissions". The Indianapolis Star. pp. B1. Retrieved October 22, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. The Indianapolis Zoo plans to change its ticket and membership structure beginning Jan. 1... (...) Under the new plan, all single-visit admission tickets and annual memberships cover the zoo and the White River Gardens. Through this year, visitors had the option of purchasing tickets or memberships for the zoo only, the gardens only or a combination that covered both attractions.
  10. ^ Meyers Sharp, Jo Ellen (January 5, 2018). "That time gardening columnist Dick Crum, aka Dr. Dirt, cost a man $1 million". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved October 27, 2022.
  11. ^ "Landscape Full of Changes in White River Gardens" (Press release). Indianapolis: Indianapolis Zoological Society. September 8, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2022.
  12. ^ a b Russell, John H.; Spencer, Thomas S. (July 28, 2005). Gardens Across America, East of the Mississippi: The American Horticultural Society's Guide to American Public Gardens and Arboreta. Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-4617-3366-9.
  13. ^ McKinney, Sally (2001). Great Indiana Weekend Adventures. Trails Books. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-915024-94-0.
  14. ^ Drawbaugh, Kevin A. (February 16, 1988). "Woollen's Mark Seen on Major Indiana Buildings". Indianapolis News: C3.
  15. ^ Knapp, Carla. "Bright Colors, Beautiful Scenes Await in White River Gardens". Indy's Child. Linear Publishing. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
  16. ^ "Dinner in the Gardens program (ZOO003036)". www.digitalindy.org. Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. January 2017 [June 1999]. p. 10. Retrieved October 27, 2022.
  17. ^ "Midwestern Panorama". indyartsguide.org. Arts Council of Indianapolis. Retrieved October 23, 2022.

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