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