Design, In the Garden

Inspiring Garden Design: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is unique to me among house museums today for its continuing focus on its namesake’s passion for horticulture and garden design.

Sited, appropriately, on the Fenway — part of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — the interplay between the sylvan courtyard and the museum galleries invites visitors to embrace the connection between art and landscape.

Built by Mrs. Gardner to evoke a 15th century Venetian palace, three floors of galleries surround the courtyard, its walls framed by actual facades of an Italian palazzo. Additionally, eight Venetian stone balconies were incorporated into this inner sanctuary. The substantial glass roof provides the ideal level of light for not only the floral displays but for the permanent tall ferns and palm trees.

Both Mrs. Gardner’s home as well as a museum, it is considered one of the most important tributes in the United States to the Italian Renaissance and has been shared with the public since its opening in 1903 (Mrs. Gardner died in 1924). Her collections include more than 7500 paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, silver and ceramics from Europe, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th century France and North America.

The museum’s interior courtyard combines ever-changing horticultural displays with sculpture and architectural elements. The curators of the courtyard garden (the magnetic center of the museum for Mrs. Gardner) offer 6 different seasonal horticultural displays…currrently, orchids are the flowers of choice.

Here, the exquisite South African bulb, Veltheimia bracteate (Forest Lily is the common name) takes center stage in the courtyard

around the impressive tile mosaic purchased in Rome by Mrs. Gardner for this sanctuary.

But it is the intimate atmosphere in which the works of art are displayed and its flower-filled courtyard that make the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum so memorable…a welcome retreat in an urban environment.

All photos taken by, Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

9 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

  1. My husband and I visited this museum.
    We were very disappointed. It’s dreary and dark and not well kept.
    We are avid museum goers and gardeners so we had really looked forward to seeing it.
    Funny after I read about it for years!

    1. Oh dear, Andrea, I’m so sorry to hear this. I’m hoping that the courtyard was maintained as that has always been my first stop…and I’ve never been disappointed!
      Happy Spring, Bettie

  2. Thank you Bettie,
    This has always been one of my favorite museums too! It brought a breathe of joy on a dreary stormy February day! Spring is around the corner!
    All the best, Kate

    1. You are so welcome, Kate! What a delight it was to be viewing these images and writing about this jewel of a museum “just up the road.”
      Thank you for your note. xB

  3. Loved this Museum since I was a teenager. Fascinating story about Mrs Gardener captured in a book called “Mrs Jack.” Mr Gardener went to great lengths to build this home for her and everything was left in place, not to be moved per the will, at the moment of her death. I can’t wait to visit it again.

  4. Newport is represented at Fenway Court with a tender portrait by Howard Gardiner Cushing of his wife. Titled “Shower of Gold” (1908) because of her glorious hair. The archive also contains the correspondence of Mrs. Gardner and Mr. Cushing.

    1. Ginny, thank you for this bit of Newport news. AS you know, Mr. Cushing’s paintings are some of my favorites. What a delight it would be to read some of those letters…a conversation to be continued. xB

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