Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – Part 1

ISABELLA AND HER LOVE FOR ART AND GARDENS


Last year, we decided to take a trip to the USA, 
my first trip to the USA.
It was fun, cold, hot, windy, special, interesting, fulfilling and everything I never thought it would be.

We met a lot of crazy –yet lovely– people and learned a lot from them and from their culture and surroundings.

Talking to a group of friends, we started a conversation about landscaping and how gardens have become a passion and a way to relax for a lot of people, including me.  One of them listened closely, not everybody is interested in talking about plants with a stranger, but he was and he mentioned this Museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; he said it was his favorite and that I should go and take a look.

At first, I was unsure, I don’t know much about art (nothing, to be fair), and I didn’t quite related plants with painting, but I listen carefully and he repeatedly mentioned plants, Italian architecture and other things that sounded good, so I was then interested.

By the end of the conversation, I was like: “ok, it is time for you (me) to learn about art and even if you (me) don’t understand a thing, just GO!!!”… So I listened to myself, and I did.

When I entered to the Museum everything I was expecting wasn’t there, everything I imagined had nothing to do with this building, do not get me wrong, it was beautiful, like a piece of Italian Renaissance in the middle of Boston.

Some lines about Isabella

Isabella Stewart Gardner by John Singer Sargent (1888)

I’m not going to tell you the whole story about her, let’s say Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), came from a wealthy family, married John “Jack” Lowell Gardner Jr. another wealthy man. She was intelligent, elegant and eccentric.

They had a rough life with a series of losses, including their child. Isabella became extremely depressed and her doctor advised her to travel. Their elegant adventures began around 1867 when they travel to Northern Europe, Russia, Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia.

Isabella kept elaborate journals of her visits; their love for art, books, and culture grew with every travel and people they met.

The building

My personal impression of the museum: A small Villa with a courtyard, flowers, water, and art; it had a presence, an elegant and peaceful presence. I instantly felt comfortable, like I was visiting somebody’s home, Isabella’s home.

The building has her style, her taste, her soul.

In 1884 Isabella and Jack Gardner first visit the Palazzo Barbaro, a Venetian palace which became Isabella’s source of inspiration for her museum’s design.

Exhibition room
Ground hall with garden courtyard views

The museum is a mix of gothic, romantic, Venetian style; it also has that something, or, everything that Isabella wanted it to be.
A combination of styles, materials, spaces, colors, architectural elements and this is what makes the place unique. On their trips to Italy, they purchased columns, windows, and doorways to adorn every floor of the building, as well as reliefs, balustrades, capitals, and statuary from the Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance periods.

Exhibition room with one of Isabella’s paintings by John Singer Sargent (on the right corner)

The museum has had different interventions through the years. For the last changes at the Museum, Architect Renzo Piano was hired to design the New Wing, he emphasized the external gardens’ views through glass walls around the new area. He made the new building a piece of art that coexists with the historic building and share with it the same architectural importance.

“Gardens, both interior, and exterior are an integral part of the Gardner Museum experience today. When Isabella built the Museum, she created an experience that was as much about flowers and plants, artfully arranged, as it was about masterpieces of art. The culmination of that vision is the courtyard but botanical images can be found throughout the Museum.”

The Courtyard

In this museum, every space was carefully designed and the courtyard was no exception. Isabella was present in every step of the design and construction, she managed to mix different architectural elements and periods and created a beautiful harmonious space, worthy of a true collection, she transformed an exhibition place into a natural, delightful area which made me feel (again) that I was in her home.

First-floor courtyard view


The country yard was designed by integrating Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance elements like stonework arches, columns, and walls.

Isabella’s passion for gardens inspired this area, the place where nine seasonal garden displays change throughout the year. Most of the plants for the courtyard are grown in the Museum’s temperature-controlled Hingham greenhouses and trucked to the Palace location where they are rotated in to keep the displays in peak condition.

Cool things about the garden displays

  • Every seasonal display in the courtyard contains 300 to 500 plants.
  • The average time for a plant in the courtyard is around 7 days, after that, they replace it with another identical plant, so they don’t suffer the lack of sunlight in the courtyard. It is a small courtyard with tall walls so direct sunlight is very poor.
  • The most traditional display is the long Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) hanging from the third-floor balconies as Gardener used to in the early 1900’s.

For those who know it and for those who don’t, this is a small but very rich space and there’s a lot to say about it, in terms of design, art, architecture, lifestyle, details and of course PLANTS!. I decided to separate this post into two parts, so I don’t leave behind the things that matter to me the most and that I want to share with you: Architecture and Garden Design.

Hope you enjoy this post and stay tuned for the next post, I’ll be talking about all the plant displays during the year in the museum’s courtyard.

The link to the Isabella Gardner’s page https://www.gardnermuseum.org/

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Best Low-Maintenance houseplants that also work as air-purifying!

Indoor plants

Everybody (including me) want the perfect living-room but sometimes it feels like a never-ending homework of details, and to be fair, sometimes it is, that’s why I’ll show you how to make the difference in your living-room, make it stand out with some beautiful and functional plants and especially, no effort required!.

This topic came to me because my husband and I are moving into a new house, we are leaving a downtown apartment, to live in a house, surrounded by nature, with a real garden and a bunch of noisy roosters around… but we love it!. Somehow this has become a goal for some people, they’re getting tired of living in the city chaos and they’re connecting more with nature, but, that’s another topic for a different post.

Enough about me, let’s get to the real thing: beautiful and functional plants for your living-room, this list is all about plants that will make your living-room look good, they require really low maintenance and the cool thing is that NASA agrees with this selection 🙂

 

This low-maintenance plants also require low-light orientation, so they’re perfect for your workspace!

 

Before getting to it, you will notice a connection with basic care steps and that’s a good thing, once you memorize it, having more than one plant will be a piece of cake;

  • Indirect light: they need moderate to indirect light so finding a place for them will be easy.
  • Moist soil: most of them are native to tropical environments so humidity is important for their growth, but remember: Moist doesn’t mean Wet!
  • Green leaves are healthy leaves: if you see some brown tips, pale green or sluggish leaves, check the soil, something’s not right.
  • Fertilize: they need nutrients just like us, give it to them.

Remember: is better to water your plants with abundant water in long intervals, that way, the water can go deep in the soil, the roots will grow down to feed themselves and be protected. If you put little water, the roots will stay in the soil’s surface, so whenever you forget to water them, the roots will dry quickly enough to damage the plant.

 

Let’s divide the plants so you can choose wisely

 

Colorful leaves

Sansevieria trifasciata or Snake plant: an ornamental evergreen, its young leaves are dark green and with time they get that nice yellow edges that will stand out in your living room or workspace. This is one of the most tolerant indoor plants, they grow by rhizomes so they need a good and draining soil; they can root easily, so few water is more than enough to take care of this elegant and structured plant.

NASA research has shown that snake plants are able to clean the air, filtering and removing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene formed at home.

 

Dieffenbachia or Dumbcane: an ornamental evergreen with different dimensions and colors (depending on the variety), It has big leaves in shades of green, yellow and white that will decorate your room very elegantly and it definitely will stand out from any angle. It rarely blooms indoors and it likes a moist drained soil. It’s convenient to rotate the container just to make sure that it can receive light in a uniform way.

Basic care:
– Filtered light
– Moist soil (not soggy)
– Removing the dry leaves to avoid fungus.

It is important to know that the leaves if chewed or eaten are poisonous, so place it where babies or pets can’t reach it.

Dumbcane

 

Falling plants

Hedera helix or English Ivy: this one can survive every condition, sun, shades and little water, it is a warrior and you can take care of it, trust me, you can!
This climbing and/or falling plant is an evergreen perfect to grow indoors with indirect light, they even survive in shady angles but the leaves will lose its variegated margins and stay dark green.

You just have to maintain a moist soil watering it about every 7 to 10 days (depending on your home temperature) during winter and if you don’t want/can’t do it, you can buy a special container with a water dispenser and you’re done, no headaches for you.

Climbing English ivy

 

Epipremnum aureum: also an ornamental with nice heart-shaped leaves and clear green-yellowish lines, very decorative, subtle and romantic, with nice and soft falling shapes.

For this plant, you can use an aerial container or a simple vase on the edge of a library to let the leaves fall. It grows fast so it’ll cover your corner in a few seasons and of course, it will clear the air at home.

They love indirect light and water every 8 to 9 days in winter.

Epipremnum

 

Tree-like

Ficus benjamina or Weeping fig: is an erect plant with a tree-like shape, dark green and glossy leaves. It will make a statement in your living room so don’t be scared to use some big indoor plants. They are slow-growing (up to 3m tall) and they will bright up and refresh your room. Water roughly, then allow to dry out slightly between watering, it does not tolerate soggy soil. Keep soil slightly drier in winter.
This fig tree will help you breath easier being one of the best plants used to improve indoor air quality, it’ll help you remove rates of toxins like formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.

They like bright indirect light and no air drafts, in early fall it will lose some leaves but, they will be fine by spring, this is a long-lived house plant so if you take care of it, it will take care of you.

Weeping fig

 

Shrubs

Chlorophytum comosum or Spider plant: considered one of the most adaptive plants and one of the easiest to grow, so it’s perfect if you want to try your abilities and “green thumb” with “one” plant at a time; its spider-like leaves are clear green or variegated.

You just have to provide:

– Bright indirect light,
– Well-drained soil
– Moist but not soggy soil, let it dry between watering.

Spider plant

 

Palms

Dypsis lutescens or Areca palm: also known as butterfly plant and awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit; NASA tested it and concluded it is one of the best plants at cleaning air at home and working spaces.

Dark and shady areas or direct sun are not good for them, so try to find a place in between (indirect light) at home so they can grow big and stylish as they are. This plant is always thirsty, but don’t exaggerate with water, there’s have to be a balance.

* This plant needs more cares than others, but it’s not impossible to do it, just practice with other plants before you engage to this one and then you’ll be prepared 🙂

Areca palm

 

Chamaedorea seifrizii or Bamboo palm: they have dark green leaves and erect strong stems, they’ll grow well and fast (in comparison to other indoor plants, about 2 to 5 years) if placed in a bright place with indirect sunlight; they don’t like sitting water, it can rot the roots and stems. You will notice if you are overwatering if new leaves are clear green and you’ll notice some brown tips or brownish new growing leaves.

This plant will give you instant gratification and that’s what we all want in a plant, right? If you take care of it, it will give you years of nice foliage at home. It also grows well in bathrooms and you wouldn’t have to water them so often.

Clean the leaves every now and then with soft soapy water and if you want a regular and even palm shape, turn the container every week or so, to let the plant have even light.
If you put it in a shady place, it’ll still grow, but slower.

Bamboo palm

 

Blooming plants

Spathiphyllum or Peace lily: they have dark green leaves and white “flowers” that are actually a specialized leaf bract that grows hooded over the “real” small flowers and catch the attention of pollinators.

You may think they need extra attention because of the flowers, but they really don’t and that’s what makes them perfect for someone new in the plants’ world.

They prefer shade over bright spots, but, it will depend on how you want your plant to look like, more sun means more spathes and flowers; less sun means fewer blooms and a green foliage look; they are native from tropical rainforests so they demand basic needs like:

  • Medium to low light
  • Water them when the soil is dry
  • Mist/Spray the flowers and leaves to imitate the humidity in rain forests (once a week or more in summer time)
  • Cut brown, yellow or soft unhealthy leaves; re-pot when it’s big enough to cover the container and cut away rotted roots.
Peace lily

 

Phalaenopsis or Moth Orchid: are blooming plants that will grant color to your living-room for long periods. Sometimes is a little bit difficult find a place for them to adapt, but, following this basic steps it will grow nicely and catch everyone’s attention:

  • Find a (moderate) bright windowsill and test its adaption to the spot.
  • Use good draining soil, roots are the most important thing to care.
  • Buy a container with little holes around it, this will let the roots to breathe.
  • Water when the soil starts to look dry (every 7 to 10 days, depending on the season)
  • Use a specific fertilizer for orchids and when the bloom season is over is good to re-pot them with fresh soil, they will appreciate it!
Moth orchid

 

This is really a nice list of easy-growing/low-maintenance houseplants and they will reward you by giving you clean air, bright colors, and beautiful shapes at home.

You can do this, try your skills with one of them and soon enough you’ll see that is totally doable, believe me, you’ll see and feel the difference at home.

 

 

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Italy’s Beautiful Gardens: Villa del Balbianello

We are in beautiful Italy, it’s summer, it’s sunny and there’re big quantities of gelato.

Last Sunday I decided to visit Villa del Balbianello in Lake Como (North Italy), somehow I always thought about this kind of places to be full of tourist and I rather go first to the “local” places, but, obviously, there’s a reason why they are so famous, and I’m glad I finally did it (after a long time, may I add).

Villa del Balbianello is part of the Italian National Trust (Fondo Ambiente Italiano – FAI) which owns a list of awesome historic buildings and gardens. Villa del Balbianello had existed since the 13th century and its firsts residents were Franciscan Monks. In 1785, the Villa was purchased and the changes in the building and gardens started, along with new owners until 1988, when its last owner died.

Guido Monzino, the last owner, was a renowned Milanese businessman, art collector and a passionate traveler who left the Villa, the Gardens, the furnishing to the Italian National Trust; He also donated a dowry which still helps to cover the Villa and Gardens maintenance.
Since then, they have renovated the Villa and partly turned it into a private Museum with Monzino’s art collection, memorabilia from his famous expeditions to the North Pole and the Everest (between 1971 and 1973) and, they’ve also renovated the Gardens.

Villa del Balbianello

The Gardens

This time I only entered the Gardens, the thing I love the most and what I wanted to show you.

The gardens frame the Villa, they’re developed in different floors and paths, as they follow the rocky mountain shape. From the beginning the big shaped Platanus acerifolia stand out, a nice Magnolia and alternating Hydrangeas follow the paths. Then, as you keep walking, the Lake takes control of the view, it just blends with the gardens like a perfect painting.

The most interesting thing about this garden is that, because of the rugged terrain, they couldn’t design a formal “Italian garden” nor a romantic “English garden”, so, they had to work and create paths around the Villa and make a unique space that gives you the opportunity to enjoy the lake from different angles. You really get to discover different scenarios just by descending the paths.

They made a pact, between the formality of the design and the “informality” of the nature when they design the Gardens.

Numerous statues guard the surroundings of the Villa and get to watch the Lake through every season.

Plant Selection

  • Wisteria sinensis: full of color in late spring and early summer
  • Hedera helix: covering some walls facing the lake
  • Agapanthus: that welcome you if you arrive by boat
  • Buxus sempervirens: elegant and a formal icon from antique gardens

You can use some of this plants to make your garden a “Royal Garden“, it’s always worth to invest in some strong and long-lasting plants, you’ll get your reward, trust me.

Agapanthus

Also, you probably recognize the name of this Villa because of its appearances on Hollywood films since 1990, like:

  • A month by the Lake (John Irvin – 1995)
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones ( I said “probably”. By George Lucas in 2002)
  • Casino Royale (Martin Campbell – 2006)

Quick tip: if you don’t like crowded places, like I do, just try to go early in the morning, there’s basically no line, your photos will be better and the lights are really favorable in the morning, plus, if you want a summer selfie, your face won’t be all shiny and sweaty 🙂
You have to walk/hike (nothing complicated) a few minutes to arrive to the actual Villa.
Also, I took the bus to get to the Villa; It’s about 45min from the Lake Como’s bus station and the price was around 6$ round trip. Lenno is the name of the village and the bus stop.

 

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Published Articles

This is a list of articles I’ve written for the online magazine: LAN, one of the most visited websites about Landscape Architecture.

I’ve been writing for LAN for almost two years and it helps me stay focused on this beautiful carrier that I love. I studied Architecture in Venezuela and Landscaping in Italy, after that I became more conscious about sustainability and urban needs these days.

Here I leave some of my articles and I’ll continue adding once they are published, hope you enjoy them!

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