Take a Peek at Isabella Stewart Gardner's Bright Birthday Tradition at Her Museum

  • April 15, 2020 14:56

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Left image: Arthur Pope, Nasturtiums at Fenway Court, 1919. Right: Nasturtiums hanging in the window, 2017.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Since 1904, a vibrant display of nasturtiums has marked Isabella Stewart Gardner's birthday in her eponymous museum's iconic courtyard in Boston. Get a glimpse...

While the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is temporarily closed in response to COVID-19 concerns, the museum has shared a video visit to the South Shore Nursery where the museum’s famous nasturtiums are grown. Every year, the Hanging Nasturtiums are celebrated as part of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s April 14 birthday. This year, the 20-foot-long flowering vines could not be displayed in the museum’s Courtyard due to the closure, yet their vivid beauty can still be appreciated within the greenhouse.

In addition to the video tour, the Gardner Museum also shared a web story, Nasturtiums: A Gardner Tradition, further detailing the intricate process needed to grow and display the flowers each year.

“We began growing this year’s nasturtiums last June and much of the winter was spent training their growth on ladders to achieve the incredible lengths needed to cascade the vines from the Museum’s Courtyard balconies,” said Erika Rumbley, Director of Horticulture at the Gardner Museum. “It is odd for our team of growers, who typically grow plants for public delight, to grow without an audience this year. The nasturtiums are always a labor of love; and while it’s sad to see them go, we’re glad we were able to share a look at this year’s blooms online.”

Each year, the next generation of nasturtium plants is started both from seed and cuttings. In this way, rooted cuttings from this April’s nasturtium crop will grow into next season’s blooms.


“I look forward to the nasturtiums each year, and we’re of course saddened we couldn’t be open to the public for this season’s display. But it’s heartening to remember their cyclical growth; this season’s flowers will ultimately yield next year’s blooms, which we hope will again provide the beauty and inspiration that has heralded spring in Boston every year since Isabella’s own time. It’s a reminder of the constant sense of renewal that the museum provides for our visitors,” said Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Gardner Museum. “We’re grateful to the entire horticultural team who are still doing essential work to maintain our living collection during closure.”

Nasturtiums growing in South Shore Nursery.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Many of the plants in the living collection, which populate the museum’s Courtyard throughout the year, have been in the Museum’s care for over five decades and require daily onsite attention. The process for some begins years before they ultimately take their place within the Courtyard arrangements. Earlier this month, for example, horticulturists at the South Shore Nursery began potting the campanula pyramidalis which will be in bloom August 2021.

Along with the nursery tour and nasturtiums web story, the Gardner Museum also shared a web story detailing the South Short Nursery and history of horticulture at the museum, which can be read here.

During its temporary closure, the museum is emphasizing new ways to share its collection and stories with audiences online.

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