Garden of Earthly Delights

8 05 2008

Isabella Gardner in the conservatory at Green Hill, 1905. Photographer Thomas E. MarrIsabella 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.

Japanese Garden, Green Hill, 1905. Photographer Thomas E. Marr.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.

– Kristin

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.

Mrs. Gardner Abroad

13 02 2008

Isabella’s India Travel ScrapbookMrs. Gardner compiled 27 scrapbooks during her extensive world travels which included, in part, journeys to Europe, Turkey, Japan and Cuba and each experience was carefully recorded. In some scrapbooks, her observations are made in the style of an anthropologist taking field notes, as she sketched and defined hieroglyphics and illustrated monuments or jotted down excerpts from local myths. In others she included photographs purchased at local photographer’s shops, which catered to the tourist industry. Mrs. Gardner dedicated Sundays to her scrap booking, pasting photographs, pressed flowers and other ephemera into her books. The scrapbooks illustrate the link between her early travels and the later construction of her museum.

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Isabella’s advice for the holiday table

9 11 2007

Mrs. Beeton’s Supper Table illustration

As was the custom in nineteenth century society, great wealth brought civic responsibility. Mrs. Gardner fulfilled her duties with unusual flair. Fenway Court (the turn-of-the-century moniker for today’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) was the setting for events to benefit local charities as well as support for artistic creation. These events included an annual garden competition, plays performed in the Gothic Room, and modern dance performances. Concerts and lavish dinner parties also took place. Read the rest of this entry »

Music in the archives…

11 10 2007

Program from the Manuscript ClubIn 1888 the Manuscript Club gave its first concert at 152 Beacon Street, Mrs. Gardner’s first Boston home. A local paper, Town Topics, described the club that year: “Mrs. Gardner’s latest triumph in Boston is the successful launching of a new musical organization called the Manuscript Club, wherein all the several amateur musicians in town play their own compositions.” The Club had been organized to secure for local composers an intelligent and sympathetic hearing of their compositions and included local female composers – an avant garde idea for the times.

Notice the signature of Margaret Ruthven Lang. [Just click on the image at left to zoom in.] Five years after playing for Mrs. Gardner, in 1893, the Boston Symphony Orchestra programmed Lang’s “Dramatic Overture” and it became the first orchestral work written by a woman performed by an American orchestra.

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