Tulips, orchids, and ferns—oh my!

Indianapolis-based Garfield Park and its Conservatory and Sunken Garden is a historic plant-lover’s paradise that’s been growing since it was first created in 1881, making it the oldest city park in Indianapolis.

Today, you’ll find Garfield Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Initially, the acres were intended to be a horse track, but the economic Panic of 1873 led the owners to scrap the track and sell the land. The land went first to the Marion County Sheriff, then to the city of Indianapolis.

After President James Garfield’s assassination in 1881, city officials decided to name the park after him, then added greenhouses and paved walking paths. In 1895, the city extended its streetcar line to provide more convenient access to this new and increasingly popular public feature. Over the course of the next two decades, the park’s greenhouse grew from 40,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet. The city built a bicycle path, tennis courts, swimming beaches on Bean Creek, and even exhibition cages for animals like monkeys and bears.

These additions made Garfield Park national news as a full-fledged conservatory and garden. The park blossomed as an Indianapolis attraction and annexed nearby land to become the 128-acre garden complex it is today.

The park completed its initial conservatory in 1916. It included two show houses for exhibition, a palm house, two plant houses, a plant propagation house, and a service/maintenance building. By the middle of the century, however, the wooden conservatory had deteriorated. In 1954, the park modernized the park and constructed the first conservatory of its kind: 10,000 square feet of welded-aluminum and glass construction.

Today, the renowned Conservatory features a permanent Amazon River Rainforest environment. Its plant collection includes orchids and an array of tropical plants. Its dramatic focal point is its 15-foot tall granite waterfall. Aside from its orchid collection, other botanical highlights of the Conservatory include vanilla bean plants, cacao, ferns, bananas, and even coffee plants.

The other highlight of Garfield Park is its three-acre Sunken Gardens. German landscape architect George E. Kessler constructed this feature in 1916. Featuring European-style formal landscapes and gardens, the feature includes three elegant fountains, bench seating, and paved brick paths. Three times a year, the Sunken Gardens comes alive with seasonal plant displays.

Postcard, c. 1930

Visitors are welcome year round—Garfield Park is even open in winter. During the holiday season, the Conservatory hosts its annual Poinsettia Show. In the spring and summer, visitors can enjoy events such as outdoor concerts, lectures, and workshops. There are also family activities like birdwatching events, bonsai workshops, and fairy garden crafting sessions. Weddings are the only private events held at the park.