Just in time for fun spring walks (don’t forget the Claritin), one of the most visited architectural tourist sites in a Midwest city famed for architectural tourist sites has emerged from a major landscape transformation.
The site in question is the former Columbus, Indiana, home of J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller, designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen with Alexander Girard and visionary modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley, who also worked with Saarinen on the St. Louis Gateway Arch . A young Kevin Roche, then at Saarinen and Associates, served as senior design associate on the project.
The recently completed landscape refresh included three major restoration projects carried out on the grounds of the iconic Miller House and Garden: the landscape surrounding the property’s swimming pool, the north apple orchard and the south apple orchard.
As noted in a Landmark Columbus Foundation press release, the three restoration projects together bring the landscape of the Miller House and Garden “back to its full glory,” with blooms from the newly planted north and south orchards complementing the more than 5,000 vibrant tulip blooms that have been growing in the Spring months attract visitors to the central part of the site. (And yes, a very different type of Saarinen tulip can be found in the house.)
“Of course the house receives a lot of attention for its amazing design features, but the landscaping is spectacular too,” Ben Wever, site manager of Miller House and Garden, said in a statement. “I hope these restorations give new visitors an extra reason to check out the property while inspiring those who have seen it before to do it again.”
Of note is the restored poolscape of 126 Arborvitae trees (a group of hardy evergreens particularly popular for making hedges), which feature prominently in SO-IL’s aptly titled J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize for the 2019 exhibition of Columbus played exhibition. this plant, Into the hedge, was on display at the Bartholomew County Courthouse during the 2019 exhibition, and its eponymous flora was expressly intended to be reused in the grounds of the Miller House and Garden. The Landmark Columbus Foundation acted as a partner in this element of the landscape restoration.
Beyond the pool area, 42 trees in the north apple orchard, originally planted in the late 1950s, have been replanted in the original quincunx pattern as part of a project undertaken in the summer of 2021. Subsequently, in the fall of 2021, 34 trees were replanted in the south, apple orchards were similarly replanted. Efforts to replant the north and south orchards were supported respectively by the Chris and Dominee Burton Family Fund and the Johnson, Miller and Schumaker families.
Paid 90-minute tours of the Miller House and Garden are offered by Newfields, the Indianapolis-based nonprofit arts and culture organization that owns and maintains the property, in partnership with the Columbus Area Visitors Center; They take place from Thursday to Saturday throughout the spring season. (See ticket information here.)
Later this year, Newfields, which also oversees an eponymous 152-acre cultural campus that includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), Fairbanks Park, the historic Lilly House and several other key components on campus, will release an initial Conservation Management Plan for the Miller House and Garden developed by PennPraxis and funded by a grant from the Getty Foundation’s Keeping it Modern Program.
Following the death of matriarch Xenia Simons Miller, members of the Miller family donated the 13.5-acre estate (including much of its original furnishings) to the IMA in 2009. two years later, in May 2011, the mid-century modern landmark opened to public tours. Other Columbus buildings designed by Eero Saarinen include Cummins Inc. Irwin Conference Center (1954) and North Christian Church (1964). Columbus-born industrialist and promoter of modern architecture, J. Irwin Miller is credited with attracting a generous handful of titans of 20th- and 21st-century architecture – Eero and Eliel Saarinen, IM Pei, Richard Meier, Harry Weese and César Pelli to name a few – to design public buildings for the city through the Cummins, Inc. foundation of the same name. His wife, Xenia, a philanthropist and patron of the arts, was also instrumental in transforming Columbus into the mecca of modern Midwest design that it is today.
The Miller House and Garden, which was Eero Saarinen’s second private commission for the Miller family after a vacation home in rural Ontario, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.
For those whose spring travel plans don’t include Southern Indiana and surrounding areas, take the time to take a virtual stroll through the revived landscape of the Miller House and Garden, seen in all its springtime glory in the gallery at the top of this page.