Design, In the Garden, Travel Notes

Magnificent Nasturtium Cascades at the Gardner Museum

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Photo Credit: Faizal Westcott

If you have usually considered nasturtiums as something to put in a salad, think again! This month, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, 20′ long hanging nasturtium garlands will provide another vision of this favorite summer flower. To say that this is unlike any museum display in our country is an understatement.

Photo Credit: Faizal Westcott

These flowering cascades are all the more impressive for the fact that this April event follows a tradition started in 1904 by Ms. Gardner in celebration of her birthday and the opening of her Venetian-style palace to the public.

Photo Credit: Sarah Whitling

Additionally, the breathtaking garlands follow another tradition at the Gardner…a very active horticultural staff that is responsible for the ‘year round seasonal plants and floral displays in the glass-ceilinged atrium of Ms. Gardner’s former home.

Photo Credit: Faizal Westcott

The almost year long cosseting of the nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) into trailing vines starts in June in the Gardner’s South Shore Boston nursery, the seedlings being moved from pot to larger pot over the summer. By the fall, decisions are made about which plants will prove to be the healthiest, and longest, vines as well as exhibiting the favored color of deep saturated orange.

Photo Credit: Bearwalk Cinema

Come late fall, the nursery staff builds trellises up the wall and across the ceiling of the greenhouse to support the staked and growing vines.

Photo Credit: Sarah Whitling

Over the winter months to early spring, they become the prima donnas that they are meant to be, enabled by an intense level of care (dare we say “manipulation”), fertilizing, culling out, and pruning daily, to ensure their dramatic length.

Photo Credit: Siena Scarff

In March, everything comes to a climax…the vines are cut down from the greenhouse ceilings, trucked into Boston, and then (looking like a bridal procession) carried by several gardeners up the stairs to the third floor of the Palace. Very carefully and daintily, they are then draped over the balconies above the courtyard, dropping a dramatic 20′.

Photo Credit: Siena Scarff

Of the countless plant species that rotate through the museum’s horticulturally endowed courtyard each year, the nasturtiums are arguably the headline act. Be sure to make a date some year to drop by and be enchanted by these stars!

Photo Credit: Siena Scarff

All images courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA.

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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".

11 thoughts on “Magnificent Nasturtium Cascades at the Gardner Museum

  1. Wow! That is amazing. I love nasturtiums and sometimes get them to cascade at length but never of course like that. Thanks for all the details on how much work this is, so the rest of us won’t feel bad that ours won’t do this!

  2. Those cascaded are on the trellis are so beautiful! What a treat for the eyes!
    So nice that they take such meticulous care of them, and do this each year.

  3. This is a fabulous idea!! You could clip the ends for salad and they will grow back. I love to decorate with them in a salad for a dinner party.

  4. Thank you, they are a magnificent display – what a creative idea! Yes, I agree the great horticultural staff are the ones that keep these gardens and displays looking so perfect for us to enjoy.

  5. Gorgeous! Just ordered my seeds from Eden Bros. My mother helped me plant the large nasturtium seeds beside my playhouse as a child.

    1. Oh Miri, What happy memories this will bring back…and some day you may have the opportunity to visit the nasturtium exhibit at the Gardner Museum! xB

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