Chad Franer’s eye for plants grew into a hunger to understand the design and function of the natural world, specifically foreign and domestic forests. The logical first step of his fellowship was to enroll in a drawing class at the Indianapolis Art Center,
in which he focused on the subtle blending of colors in objects, as well as improving his sketching skills. Franer then took his sharpened creative eye overseas, to the national parks of Japan. A lifelong dream of his, this trip involved studying native plants that are often used in American garden designs. He also toured intricate gardens around imperial palaces that have protected 400-year-old trees (in comparison, the Garden at Newfields was
just a baby). “Through my travels, I developed a better understanding of how the Japanese culture is built around a respect for the natural world,” Franer said. “This opened my eyes to focus my work with a new expectation regarding fine details and longevity.” His colleagues even introduced him to world-renowned plantsman Seiju Yamaguchi and his nurseries. “Meeting him [Yamaguchi] gave me a respect for his lifelong legacy of visiting China 16 times to introduce unique plants from Japan and China.”
Witnessing the longevity behind Japanese garden design has inspired Franer to consider how he may replicate such a practice here in Indy. He is now reaching out to other garden and horticulture professionals to discover unique purposes for plants, such as populating urban spaces with uncommon plants that are actually more likely to survive. He is also planning a trip across the U.S. Midwest in search of sycamore trees to find dwarf varieties that would fit into urban environments.