DESIGNED BY Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard in 1957 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000, the former home of Xenia and J. Irwin Miller is lauded as one of the most important, if not the most important, midcentury-modern works of architecture in the country.
The recent outdoor projects were centered on the swimming pool and the north and south apple orchards. The landscaping around the pool was enhanced with 126 arborvitae trees (a group of sturdy, semi-dwarf evergreens that grow into a pyramidal shape, and with foliage of flat, fan-like sprays rather than needles). A total of 76 apple trees originally planted in the late 1950s were replaced in the orchards.
The original landscape designer, Dan Kiley, is praised for his quintessential modern residential garden. Unfortunately, though, many of his flora selections were ill-suited to our climate and had to be replaced a few years after they were planted.
From then until this latest rejuvenation, the original landscape design has been the lodestar. “The Miller Garden is an important residential Kiley landscape. The museum stewardship philosophy does not allow for planting new designs,” says Jean-Luc Howell, director of historic preservation at Newfields. “We have on occasion replaced trees and plants with similar types when the original variety or previous plantings failed for one reason or another. We always choose a replacement that is similar enough to the original so as not to lose the design intent.”
The newest plantings were overseen by Miller House and Garden site manager Ben Wever. The arborvitae that had been around the pool had outgrown the allotted space and started encroaching on the gates surrounding the area. “We had the opportunity to partner with Exhibit Columbus and Landmark Columbus to acquire new specimens for this space. As these shrubs mature, they will create a hedge around the pool, as was the original intent,” explains Howell.
The apple trees were replaced with crabapples in the same genus as Kiley’s original plantings. “They have a similar leaf and flower, but do not produce large fruits,” says Howell. They were planted in the exact same spots as their predecessors, in keeping with the geometric formations. The replacements were necessary as the original apple trees were simply getting old. “Also, we lost several trees over the years to disease and storm damage,” adds Howell. “The integrity of the garden space was waning. With these new plantings, all trees are the same age and size. They have the uniform look of the originals.”
The legendary property has always been treasured by local residents, and these new upgrades will only make it more cherished. Especially during the springtime, the profusion of tulips on the property make it a gorgeous backdrop. “I have had the pleasure of presiding at an outdoor wedding ceremony held at the Miller House and Garden,” says pastor Lawrence L. Isbell of First Lutheran Church Columbus. “The ceremony was enhanced immeasurably by the beauty and elegance of the grounds.” Pastor Isbell and his wife, Janet, also residents of Columbus, share that many of their parishioners revel in enjoying the grounds at the Miller House and Garden, and consider themselves lucky to have such easy access to it.
Happily, we’re not much farther away. Tours for the Miller House and Garden are offered in partnership with the Columbus Area Visitors Center, but you can only meander through the splendor on a guided tour, via a short shuttle ride from the Visitors Center. There is no direct access. For tour tickets, go to columbus.in.us/miller-house-and-garden-tour.