Nasturtiums and More in Boston
Every April, 15- to 20-foot-long cascades of blossoming nasturtium vines are draped from the third floor balconies of the Courtyard at the Isabella Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston, Massachusetts (map).
This tradition began during Isabella Gardner’s time, coinciding with the opening of the museum the week before Easter. Nasturtium vines, Tropaeolum majus, are grown from seed sown in late summer and are cultivated in the museum’s greenhouses through the winter in preparation for the spring display. The vines require continuous care to ensure their dramatic length. The day the nasturtiums are brought to the courtyard, as many as ten workers are required to hang them from the balconies.
In the courtyard garden below, azaleas, blue cinereria, ivory and cream daffodils, and Cymbidium orchids are placed against a background of green ferns, palms, tree ferns and Norfolk pines. The lemon and orange shades of Clivia miniata are complimented by Abutilon stiratum (flowering maple) flanking the steps and the statues. This is an experience for the senses.
The Clivia shown in the courtyard are very large old plants. The orange Clivia minata have been in the Gardner collection for over 40 years. The newer yellow-flowered specimens came from the nursery collection of Allen Haskell in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Yellow evergreen azaleas were coveted when August Kehr, a legendary plant hybridizer from North Carolina began his search for a hybrid. His first success was named informally Kehr’s ‘Unfinished Yellow’.
Isabella Gardner was an avid plant lover, and nasturtiums were one of her favorite flowers. They were grown at her greenhouses at Green Hill, her husband’s family estate in Brookline, as well as at her summer home in Beverly.
She first hung the nasturtiums from the balconies of the courtyard in preparation for a public viewing of the museum the week before Easter, and it soon became an annual tradition.
The timing of the display usually coincides with Gardner’s birthday on April 14.
The display was memorialized by the artist Arthur Pope in a painting from 1919 entitled “Nasturtiums at Fenway Court,” which now hangs on the first floor of the museum in the Macknight Room.
Gardner expressed her desire that only the orange-colored varieties be displayed in the museum, as she felt that color best complemented the pink walls of the courtyard.
(Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum)