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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Transform your terrace in only few steps!

I’m so excited to share my first Garden Design with you!, as I explain on my profile, every project and its information is going to be public so you all can get ideas for your own garden needs.

Today’s design is about a particular “L” Shaped Terrace, the clients are a family of three, a mom and two daughters. They had 3 specific needs;

  • They wanted relaxing “tea time” area so they can have some friends in spring afternoons
  • A sunbathe private area for the summer
  • And a space for aromatic plants because they love to cook.


Let’s get started!

 The terrace is placed in the 4th and last floor, pointing to North, it means that each side of the garden is going to have sunlight for at least a couple of hours during the day. It turns convenient because every angle can be used depending on the needs. One thing to know about me is that I really struggle with unused spaces and stuff, I always try to have functional things and (obviously) space, I believe we should all enjoy every angle of our home and that’s what I’m doing here.

 

Plant selection:

Terrace floorplan

 

  1. Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
  2. Iris ‘Wedgwood’
  3. White Hortensias in tall containers (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  4. White Hortensias in tall containers (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  5. Hosta ‘Halcyon’
  6. Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’
  7. Coral bell (Heuchera x ‘Midnight Bayou’
  8. Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’
  9. Festuca glauca
  10. Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’
  11. Aromatic herbs

 

THE NEW GARDEN

The new terrace design

Tea-time area

It was designed as a seating area, with an outdoor sofa in dark wood with cream cushions and a tea table in the same material.

  • On each side of the sofa, tall containers carry white hortensias (Hydrangea macrophylla) which will grant elegance to the terrace.
  • On the right side of the couch, star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) that gives privacy and in the same containers, a line of iris bulbs like Iris ‘Wedgwood’ for a touch of color and shapes during blooming time.

 These girls love maples so the main angle will be a perfect spot for some colorful maples, it could be a new sitting area in the future so having all the plants in separate containers can be a good option for those who love changes.

 So:

  • The same line of containers carries red and acid green maples. Those are filled with small ivy (Hedera helix) that gives a falling effect and different shapes to the garden.
  • Winter bulbs like snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) will make the difference in cold seasons, mixed in the same container with the ivy.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ is a 6m tall maple with yellow-green leaves and red coral branches visible during the winter. This maple is in constant color change, even in winter, when it has no leaves and the red brunches will give another shade to the garden.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a 5m tall maple, with dark red leaves that change into vibrant red in autumn.
  • Small but strong plants surround the A. p. ‘Sango-kaku’, like Hosta ‘Halcyon’ nice and compact shrub, loves partial sun to full shade, tall 35-40cm and 70cm wide. It has blue-grey heart-shaped leaves and grey-lavender bell-shaped flowers.
  • Another great shrub is the dramatic coral bell (Heuchera x ‘Midnight Bayou’) with red foliage, perfect for growing in containers and beautiful in contrast to green foliage plants. It grows well in partial sun, it is 30cm tall and 50cm wide, in summer it forms stems with white little flowers.
  • Next to the A. p. ‘Bloodgood’ goes the or blue fescue  (Festuca glauca), an evergreen grass, tall 30cm and blue-gray foliage of erect tufts, it stands up under the red maple foliage.

Sunbathing in an orchard

 Some aromatics will help these girls relax while sunbathing, a free space and seating area that’s not visible from the tea area, thanks to the shape of the terrace and the plant selection.

  • The aromatics selection is always easy and hard at the same time, all of them are beautiful and tasty. Perennial shrubs like rosemary, chives, and sage will work just fine to look at and to cook. Other herbs like basil and parsley are placed in separate containers so they can rotate and change them in winter.
  • Other annual plants are dispersed around the terrace, like geraniums (Pelargonium) that they can alternate every year with bulbs.
  • Another small shrub will look good here and it’s the evergreen known as elephant’s ears (Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’); It has rounded deep green leaves that turn into purple in winter, it’s 60cm tall and it’s perfect to help the garden looking alive in winter.

 

There it is!

It’s all about colors during the different seasons, contrasts between colors and shapes is all it takes to start a good project, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!.

 

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