ISABELLA GARDNER MUSEUM – PART 2

COURTYARD’S SEASONAL DISPLAYS

 

This is the second part of a Post I published last week Isabella and her love for Art and Gardens, on it, I talk about the amazing life of the Gardner family, its trips, and their lifestyle that lead them to build the Isabella Gardner Museum.

Isabella Stewart Gardner was passionate about art and culture, she became interested in the gardens she saw while traveling all around the world and wanted to leave her legacy through art; this Museum is the accomplishment of those interests, with, of course, her personal and intimate touch.

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice, 1894, by Anders Zorn (Oil on canvas, 91 x 66 cm)

Her museum is a mix of styles, gothic, renaissance, roman and byzantine, famous because of its great art pieces, nevertheless, the garden courtyard is also an essential part of the building, with floral exhibitions of new and full-grown plants that change constantly during the year, according to seasons and blooms.

Every month the courtyard has a floral theme and color, therefore it has become as essential and iconic as every part of the museum.

The Courtyard


Before we start talking about plants, here are some curiosities about the courtyard and it’s care:

  • Every seasonal display in the courtyard contains 300 to 500 plants.
  • Each plant is placed in the courtyard for around 7 days, after that, they have to replace it with another identical one; there’s a lack of sunlight in the courtyard, caused by the tall walls so close to each other and the plants can suffer having low light.
  • 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.


That being said, here’s the list of displays during the year

 

Winter tropics (January – February)

Tropical and subtropical plants fill the courtyard: lots of Orchids, norfolk island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), tree ferns (Cyatheales), fishtail palms (Caryota), areca palms and ferns.

This display is inspired by old images of plants placed by Isabella.

(You can also grow this plants at home, in a room with indirect light and high humidity).



Orchids (February – March)

Exotic orchids native to Southeast Asia and Africa, like slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum) with maroon and green flowers, Leopard orchids (Ansellia) with yellow flowers and brown spots, nun’s cap orchids (Phaius tankervilleae) and other groups, all of these, surrounded with calla lilies.


Hanging Nasturtiums (April)
The most traditional display in the museum.

As Isabella did in the late 1800’s, hanging nasturtiums keep making a dramatic appearance above the courtyard. Cascades of flowering nasturtium vines grown in the Museum’s greenhouses, they require continuous care to ensure the dramatic length.

Hanging nasturtiums above the Gardner Museum courtyard

 

Spring blooms (April – May)

Time to talk about color! After the Nasturtiums (also colorful), they place azaleas, blue cineraria, ivory and cream daffodils, and pines. Another Gardner Museum’s signature is the Clivia miniata. Flowering maples used to flank the steps and the statues.

This is the most famous and labor intensive of the courtyard displays.


Hydrangeas (April – June)

The most notorious and common are the Hydrangea macrophylla, Hydrangea quercifolia, and Hydrangea paniculata among other specimens grant life and color to the courtyard. Violets, deep blues, and whites of the hydrangeas complement the delicate yellow oncidium orchids.


Summer blues (June – July)

Late-flowering hydrangeas are a great source of color and create a nice environment in summer. Mophead Hydrangeas and H. paniculata ‘Grandifolia’ fill in the courtyard and stand out among the statues, then, they introduce Agapanthus blue blooms.

Agapanthus at the Gardner’s Museum

 

Bellflowers (August – September)

As the courtyard has small dimensions and tall walls, it remains fresh during warmer months, ferns and fountains’ water help maintain it that way. At this time of year, chimney bellflower (Campanula pyramidalis) appears in the courtyard. The Museum’s horticulturists grow this plant as a biennial, from seeds; it takes two years to get Campanulas to maturity (1,80m tall) and thrive in the courtyard.

Campanula piramidalis at the Gardner’s Museum

 

Chrysanthemums (September – November)

Late September is chrysanthemums’ time, different colors and species. It’s known that Isabella grew many chrysanthemums varieties, as a matter of fact, a pink-tinged chrysanthemum was named for her.

Chrysanthemum at the Gardner’s Museum
Chrysanthemum at the Gardner’s Museum

 

Holiday Garden (December – January)

Holiday traditions at the Gardner Museum showcase flowering jade trees (Crassula argentea) raised in the Museum’s greenhouse for many years, the oldest ones are 60 years old, with trunks around 10 to 15 cm in diameter and 90 cm tall.

Crassula, holiday courtyard

Other plants thrive around the Museum like jade trees, like silver dusty miller, green aloe, and amaryllis red winter blooms.

 

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/