Isabella Stewart Gardner was an avid and skilled gardener and landscape designer. It may be possible that her initial interest in horticulture came through her grandmother Isabella Tod Stewart, who received awards for agriculture from the state of New York (which Isabella put on display in the Short Gallery of the museum). Her home at 152 Beacon Street, Boston, was filled with tropical plants, large palms and ferns. She took advantage of large bay windows overlooking the sidewalk below to create a changing display of flowers visible to all passers-by. The flowers were grown by her father-in-law, John Lowell Gardner, Sr. whose relationship with Isabella possibly focused her gardening interests. John Sr. was a member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and received many show awards for ornamental plants and vegetables. His extensive gardens at Green Hill, Brookline, were recognized in Boston and beyond, for their beauty and attention to detail.
Isabella and her husband inherited Green Hill in 1883 and she continued to reside there seasonally until 1919. Working with John Lowell Gardner Sr.’s English gardener, Charles Montague Atkinson, she honed her skills. With its extensive greenhouses, Green Hill provided an opportunity for her to explore plants and garden design. She continued to participate in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society annual shows and her efforts were rewarded with many awards for her floral entries. In addition, she created several theme gardens at Green Hill, including an Italian garden, an ‘English lawn’ and a Japanese Garden. Her gardening experience was manifest in the creation of the courtyard and gardens at Fenway Court in 1900, a “garden beautiful” to compliment the “house beautiful” within.
Top photo: Isabella Gardner in the conservatory at Green Hill, 1905. Photographer Thomas E. Marr.
Bottom photo: Japanese Garden, Green Hill, 1905. Photographer Thomas E. Marr.
As the Gardner Museum’s archivist, Kristin Parker tends to photographs and documents relating to Mrs. Gardner as carefully as Isabella tended her own gardens. Click here to read her most recent post on Mrs. Gardner’s travel scrapbooks.