From Hog Farm to Heaven
Avon Gardens Offers Flowers, Trees, & Wedding Memories
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
The property on which Avon Gardens sits has been in Karen Robbins’ family for 150 years. Her grandfather farmed the land, growing soybeans,4 corn, chickens and hogs. Karen grew up down the road from the farm and recalls playing on the property as a child. When her grandpa died in 1987, Karen transformed a portion of the land into her own personal gardens since she adored plants, flowers and everything nature.
“I feel like being out in nature creates enriching experiences that make people feel alive,” says Karen, who spent two years cleaning up the property.
This included tearing down the chicken coops, incubator house, and outhouse, pressure washing off nearly two centuries’ worth of accumulated grime on the structures and renovating the 200-year-old barn, which oozed vintage charm with its massive mortise and tenon beams.
“It’s amazing when you think of all the weather that structure has seen in its day,” she says. “Yet even during the most terrible windstorm, it doesn’t creak.”
Once the property was restored and tidied up, Karen brought 10 truckloads of plants from her other home so she could start making display gardens. Initially, she planted mostly day lilies and hostas. In 1990, she opened Avon Gardens to the public, selling plants on the weekends.
“It was a hobby out of hand — very low key,” says Karen, who at the time had a full-time job as an accountant. “But that’s how it all started — from my love of plants.”
By 1995, Karen had expanded her hours and her season, opening Wednesday through Sundays from April through October. Now Avon Gardens is five acres of botanical gardens with more than 3,000 varieties of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. They also sell garden art, including metal pieces, benches, bird baths, fountains and trellises. They also organize Fairy Garden & Container Garden workshops in the garden center. In addition, Karen and her staff provide personal landscaping services.
“We love creating beautiful yard-scapes for people that go beyond the run-of-the-mill design,” Karen says.
For instance, when Indiana was slammed with torrential rains in late April, it wreaked havoc on the property as ponds filled up with dirty water, which Karen had to drain and refill.
Karen’s commitment to keeping a pristine atmosphere is evident as one strolls the garden’s grounds. People are constantly telling her how lovely it is. In fact, a German woman once told her that she’d visited gardens in many countries and in all of her travels, Avon Gardens was the nicest she’d ever seen.
This beauty is precisely why years ago customers repeatedly inquired about holding their weddings in the gardens. Finally, in 2000, Karen started offering wedding packages to brides and grooms. Not many outdoor wedding venues exist in Indiana that provides a true garden setting. Most places offer an outdoor option for the ceremony but move the reception indoors. At Avon Gardens, however, the entire experience is set in nature.
“A lovely breeze blows through the reception area,” Karen says. “The tree frogs sing and the warm glow of the candles provides a romantic ambiance.”
Rachel Ann Klinefelter, who married at Avon Gardens last year, describes the venue as “fairytale-like.” And Cody Flynn, a wedding attendee, gushes, “If you think [this place] is beautiful during the day, wait until you see it at night!”
With more than 100 weddings held at the venue every season, rarely is there room to host other events. But for just a $25 donation to the maintenance fund, anyone can bring a photographer and shoot pictures in the gardens — an ideal setting for senior portraits, engagement announcements and maternity photos. The photo sessions do have to be scheduled ahead of time, however, to ensure they don’t conflict with a wedding. When no one is exchanging vows, though, folks are welcome to walk through the gardens and enjoy the scenery.
Karen’s greatest joy is seeing her gardens grow. She likes that every day the landscape is slightly different, depending on what’s blooming.
“To me, that’s what makes gardening interesting — the evolution of the plant,” says Karen, who calls perennials the true performers of the garden.
“They’re like friends coming back to see you,” says Karen, noting that she’s had a clump of Shasta daisies in the front gardens that have been in that same spot for more than two decades. “Every year they grow four feet tall, bloom their heads off, are cut back and return the next year.”
Though being tucked back off of county roads makes for a heavenly matrimony hideaway, the secluded location means that many Avon residents don’t even know the place exists.
“Every year I’m astounded by the number of people who tell me, ‘Gosh, I’ve been driving down this road for 15 years and never knew any of this was back here,’” Karen says.
This year the National Hosta Society and the National Iris Society will hold their conventions in Indianapolis, and Avon Gardens will be a stop on each society’s garden tour.
“More than 700 people will come from all across the country to the town of Avon to see our gardens,” says Karen, noting that in the past 27 years, Avon Gardens has been included on more than a dozen national plant tours. “The irony is that we are sort of famous in the plant world. Just a few people in my own county have heard of us.”
Check out the most beautiful best-kept secret in Hendricks County, located at 6259 E. County Road 91 N. For more information, visit avongardens.com.