Flowers form quilt patterns in unique garden displays

By on July 28, 2014
The Quiet Garden in Middlebury, Indiana is designed in a “bow tie” pattern created with wax begonias and marigolds.

The Quiet Garden in Middlebury, Indiana is designed in a “bow tie” pattern created with wax begonias and marigolds.

My family and I recently returned from our annual summer road trip to the mid-west to visit family and friends.  We have less than one week – so most of our time is spent visiting with loved ones – but for several years now we have made a stop during the return trip to the Amish country of northern Indiana.

We typically spend a couple of hours in Middlebury, Indiana, but it would be easy to spend a couple of weeks in the region.  There are many charming and quaint communities including Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee, Shipshewana, and Wakarusa, which are filled with shops, galleries, eclectic eateries and pubs, museums, entertainment venues, bed and breakfasts, and flowers – lots and lots of flowers.

Along the scenic and historic Heritage Trail – which runs through these communities – are a number of “Quilt Gardens” or “Flower Quilts.” According to a brochure, the gardens comprise the only experience of its kind in the world – 20 “super-sized” quilt-inspired gardens with more than 1,000,000 blooms.

We only have time to visit one of the quilt gardens, which is located at Das Dutchman Essenhaus on US Route 20.  It’s an Amish attraction which includes shops, a bakery, restaurant, hotel, conference center, and gorgeous landscaping in addition to the quilt garden.

All the quilts along the trail are unique and this year’s trail also includes more than 20 quilt murals, which are hand-painted and hung on the exterior walls of various buildings – much like the barn quilts we see in communities like Kendall and LeRoy locally.

Workers in The Quilt Garden provide a sense of perspective to show the size of the design.

Workers in The Quilt Garden provide a sense of perspective to show the size of the design.

The Heritage Trail seasonal tour of gardens and murals runs from Memorial Day through October 1 and is free. The folks at Essenhaus say their garden should be at its prime from mid-August until mid-September. It was spectacular when we visited in mid-July.

Set on a softly-sloping hillside, the Essenhaus quilt garden is an amazing example of the impact of simply planting large masses of easy-to-care for, and season-long blooming annuals.

The 2014 flower quilt garden at Essenhaus is done in the “bow tie” design  and is impressively large – 3,202 square feet.

Over 7,800 flowering plants were used for the quilt garden – three types of annuals chosen for their low maintenance, sun loving/drought tolerant and vigorous growing traits. I love the fact they are very common – two colors of wax begonias and one color of marigolds.

According to Essenhaus, 4,800 “Eureka” bronze leaf red begonias were used. These flowers bloom all summer without fizzling and are very vigorous growers, swiftly filling out the design. The quilt also includes 1,920 “Eureka” green leaf white begonias.  Wax begonias typically come with either green or bronze leaves. I  love them both, particularly the way the bronze-leaf varieties contrast with the  blooms and with other annuals. Apparently, bronze-leaf varieties are best suited for sun and green-leaf varieties tolerate some shade.  Lastly, 1,104 “Boy Yellow” marigolds were used.  This variety is easy to grow and early to bloom and Essenhaus chose them because they provide a cheery punch of color to the garden. They are very hardy and compact and thrive in various conditions.

It’s very inspiring to see the quilt, and although I could never afford a garden of annuals that large, I want to do more with larger plantings of single annual varieties and colors for impact. It’s also great to see a region that places so much importance on the beauty flowers add to public places.

If you would like to learn more about the Indiana quilt gardens and see some great photos, you can visit;, or The last site is the most comprehensive.

Here’s a little information on the fall flower carpets which must be just as amazing as the quilts. We have never been in the area in the fall, but in two of the communities along the Heritage Trail – Elkhart and Nappanee – the carpets are on display from September 28 through October 15. The carpets are crafted with thousands of mums, filling entire city blocks with color. The photos look like the carpets blanket an entire street. The displays also set the stage for additional autumn-themed community and cultural events.

Someday, I hope to have the chance to spend more time along northern Indiana’s Heritage Trail – it’s not really that far away …. eight to nine hours with a meal stop and it’s a special place full of garden beauty and inspiration.

Photos by K. Gabalski