You might expect Jonathan Wright to go home to a formally coiffed yard. Instead, he stuffs in the plants, stacks the pots and lets everything grow.
plant filled front porch wooden door
Credit: Emily Berger

Jonathan Wright collects plants. Lots of plants. (A not-so-surprising hobby, perhaps, for the person in charge of all the greenspaces around the Indianapolis Museum of Art.) So after moving to Indy five years ago, he and his partner, Stuart Alter, were thrilled to discover a late Victorian home near downtown with a rare double lot—a carpet of lawn that today hosts a bounty of flowers and foliage.

orange trumpet honeysuckle white fence
jonathan and stuart front steps portrait
Left: Jonathan Wright's garden starts at the sidewalk, where a picket fence supports a variety of free-spirited climbers. (This one, trumpet honeysuckle, is a native, semievergreen alternative to the invasive trumpet vine.) | Credit: Emily Berger
Right: Jonathan and Stuart on their front porch. | Credit: Emily Berger

"It's a bit wild," Jonathan concedes, "but that's the style I like. I'd rather it be full and lush than too slim." And full it is, starting at the picket fence, where Jonathan trains up English roses, clematis and even thornless blackberry brambles that tempt passing neighbors. On the steps, he curates a gallery of houseplant curiosities. Along the wraparound porch, he weaves hundreds of bulbs with old-time annuals like love-in-a-mist, larkspur and snow daisies.

In back, curvaceous borders grow thick with perennials, edibles and more annuals. Many plants pay tribute to his gardening great-grandmother and his grandfather. There's not a bare spot of soil, and that's by design.

outdoor patio lounge area filled with plants
Lush with foliage and outdoor art, the patio reflects Jonathan's "more is more" garden philosophy. Pond cypress trees screen the fence, and pots hold fast-growing banana trees and corkscrew willows. (To control the willows' size, he prunes branches for container accents and trellises.)
| Credit: Emily Berger

"A lot of people say I break all the rules and plant too densely," Jonathan says, "but part of that is knowing I'm going to edit later with cutting or thinning." He would rather make room by trimming the outer leaves off a sprawling hosta, for example, than see bare spots for the first half of the growing season. Likewise, he lets seed heads linger for interest (and to encourage volunteers that will fill gaps next spring). He knows he'll have to thin a lot—but will also be rewarded with little joys, like stray poppies sprouting in gravel paths.

jonathan trimming plants in garden
bird bath and lounging chair lush backyard
Left: Jonathan sequesters more rambunctious vegetables, such as tomatoes, in this sunny back corner—along with a pink 'Grandma's Blessing' shrub rose, yellow corydalis and whatever self-seeding annuals show up at the party. | Credit: Emily Berger
Right: A grassy path winds to a serene "cul-de-sac" by the rear vegetable bed. The tall plant in the foreground is a mullein. Jonathan uses them for vertical statements here and by the patio. The dainty white flowers are Minoan lace, another annual. Jonathan trims their blooms to float in the birdbath with pink dianthus. | Credit: Emily Berger

Jonathan started plant-collecting as a child. He welcomed gifts of magnolias and Japanese primroses from adult gardening friends. By 14, he was a regular at R-P Nurseries, a long-standing, family-run garden center near his hometown in Pennsylvania. He answered so many fellow customers' questions, the owner gave him the staff discount at checkout and offered him a job: "The manager told my mom, 'Your son sold more plants than our staff!'"

Following that prodigious start, Jonathan worked 15 years as a horticulturist, designing bulb meadows and elevated walkways through sloped gardens at Chanticleer, a renowned historic garden near Philadelphia. In 2016, he became director of the gardens and park at what's now called Newfields—a 152-acre campus that includes the Lilly House mansion and Indy's biggest art museum. A year after relocating, he and Stuart found their current home within walking distance of their rental. "It was like hitting the jackpot," says Jonathan.

bamboo willow smokebush pea trellis garden
breadseed poppies in garden
lush garden path up to house
Left: Jonathan built his pea trellis from purchased bamboo stakes and twigs of willow and smokebush harvested from his backyard. "I have a lot of fun with it and let branches dictate what the trellis looks like," he says. "If you're going to spend money, it might as well be on the plants and not the staking material." | Credit: Emily Berger
Center: Jonathan sows an abundance of breadseed poppies with their blue-gray leaves; decorative seed heads; and white, pink, red and purple blooms. They self-sow freely, so once you grow them, they will forever pop up around your garden. | Credit: Emily Berger
Right: In an urban garden, every square foot counts, like this lush garden path up to the house. | Credit: Emily Berger

Following a memorable move—they ferried 30 plant-filled containers, plus a banana tree in a trough, down the street on dollies—Jonathan set to work. He broke the side lot into zones to create a strolling garden with a mowed path, a native pocket prairie and wide borders.

potting bench with terra-cotta pots on side of house
Jonathan admits a soft spot for terra-cotta. Many of his pots (including some dating to the 1800s) came from the nursery where he worked as a teen. "Everything there started in these small pots," he explains. He also has a thing for antique watering cans—and ingeniously repurposed one as a light over the potting bench when Stuart challenged him to create a custom fixture.
| Credit: Emily Berger

Local artist Kim McNeelan crafted a potting bench. And the couple designed the patio together, anchoring the seating area with an abstract painting by Stuart. They love to host friends for pre-dinner cocktails or evenings around the firepit. But above all, this property is a personal space, where a born collector can pursue his pastime. "It's my passion and refills me," Jonathan says. "It allows me to express my mind, physically garden, let off stress—and most of all, play with plants."