The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM) will debut its Hanging Nasturtiums on March 31—a tradition started by Isabella more than a century ago. Approximately 18 vines of orange nasturtiums—each more than 20 feet in length—will cascade from the third-floor balconies overlooking the Museum’s historic Courtyard. This dramatic display of flowers, on view through (at least) April 12, was canceled last Spring (2020) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making their triumphant return even sweeter this year.
“This Spring, more than ever, Boston awaits the arrival of the nasturtiums,” said Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Gardner Museum. “Our hope is that our visitors and the entire Boston community will feel a sense of hope and new beginnings as they witness the return of these beautiful flowers, a tradition started by Isabella more than a century ago.”
Since the early 1900s, flowering nasturtiums have hung above the Museum’s Courtyard for two to three weeks during the month of April. The custom was begun by Isabella in celebration of Easter and April, the month of her birthday (on the 14th), and has become a highly-anticipated rite of Spring for anyone who appreciates art, flowers, ingenuity, creativity and color. The complicated process of cultivating the saturated orange flowers begins with seedlings started several months in advance and tended to in the Museum’s off-site greenhouses. The Gardner’s horticulture team grows the floral vines along the roof of the greenhouse (pruning daily for correct form and color) throughout the winter to prepare them for their spring debut. This year, Erika Rumbley, the Museum’s Stanley P. Kozak Director of Horticulture, tried something new. In addition to starting a group of seedlings in June, as has been done for decades, she propagated a second set of plants from cuttings in September 2020. Ultimately the latter produced the more bountiful blooms chosen for this year’s Courtyard display.
“One of Isabella’s favorite florals, the nasturtiums have earned fame as part of a time-honored annual tradition at the Gardner,” said Erika Rumbley. “I feel fortunate to carry on this beloved custom—caring for these precious flowers for several months, and then sharing them, in all their glory above the Courtyard, for the public to enjoy.”
The installation of the 20 foot vines of the Hanging Nasturtiums requires many hands. Members of the Gardner’s team of horticulturalists (as well as the Museum’s landscape workers) carefully and protectively carry each delicate vine through the Museum to its 3rd floor destination, to drape from balconies overlooking the Museum’s Courtyard. This year’s horticulture display will also include a broad palette of narcissus, hyacinth, and tulips, alongside nasturtium, clivia and cineraria on the ground floor of the Courtyard surrounding the mosaic. A rough timeline of the process can be found online in addition to a virtual greenhouse tour with Erika Rumbley. The Hanging Nasturtiums will be on view through April 12 (with potential to be extended until April 19, if still in bloom).
Nasturtiums in the Collection
Not only can visitors see nasturtiums in the Courtyard, they can also find them in the galleries— represented in the collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Many of Isabella’s friends drew artistic inspiration from her Museum, including Arthur Pope, a color theorist and professor of art at Harvard University. On one of his visits to the Gardner, Pope captured the Museum’s annual spring Courtyard display of bright orange flowers flowing over the balconies in his painting Nasturtiums at Fenway Court. One hundred years after Pope painted the blooming vines, contemporary artists like James Prosek, Artist-in-Residence at the Gardner (since 2018) known for his love of the natural world, continue to be inspired by their beauty. You can read more about these stories on the Inside the Collection blog, available March 30. Other pieces related to nasturtiums in the collection include a painting in the Blue Room and a candy box with nasturtiums on its cover that Isabella kept in her desk,
The ISGM is offering online and in-person programs to enhance the Hanging Nasturtiums experience. For some extra calm, the Museum has an on-site guided meditation available in the Courtyard. Recorded by India Clark, founder of the local Wayfinder Institute, this meditation is designed to bring the visitor into connection with the moment. Additionally, April’s “In the Studio with Rayna Lo” online series focuses on flowers inspired by water and drawing geraniums. Lastly, on Thursday, April 1, the Museum will host its regular First Thursday event, offering free admission from 5-9 p.m. (Reservations for April First Thursdays have sold out.)
Café G and Gift at the Gardner The Gardner’s popular restaurant, Café G, has come out of hibernation just in time for the Hanging Nasturtiums. Inspired by the brilliant orange flowers, Chef Peter Crowley has conceived two delectable creations —the Nasturtium Sparkler, a thirst-quenching cocktail of sparkling wine with blood orange (a non-alcoholic version is also available upon request), and a Nasturtium Pesto Pasta. The Museum’s shop, Gift at the Gardner, has also caught the spirit of the orange. From their best-selling nasturtium canvas bag (with Isabella quote) to seed packets to start your window boxes at home, visitors will find plenty of creative and floral inspiration.
In celebration of the Hanging Nasturtiums, as well as Isabella’s birthday, the Museum is offering a special membership incentive through April 14 (Isabella’s birthday). In addition to the regular benefits of membership, like unlimited visitation, Museum discounts, members-only virtual programs, and discounts on shopping and dining, the promotion includes $5 to $25 off the Museum’s most popular membership levels, as well as a free tote bag decorated with nasturtiums. For those who join at the Sustainer level and above, your membership will also include a packet of nasturtium seeds to begin your own orange garden. Visit our website to sign up.
Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $13 for students. Hanging Nasturtiums will be on view through (at least) April 12. For more information—hours, updates and details about visiting, please visit this webpage.
This year, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will miss its longtime gardener and Head of Horticulture, Stanley P. Kozak. Stan passed away in November 2019 after 50 years of dedicated care and cultivation of the beloved nasturtiums. Erika Rumbley, who served as Horticulture Manager on Stan’s team, continues the tradition as the Museum’s Stanley P. Kozak Director of Horticulture.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum invites you to escape the ordinary in a magical setting where art and community come together to inspire new ways of envisioning our world. Embodying the fearless legacy of its founder, the Museum offers a singular invitation to explore the past through a contemporary lens, creating meaningful encounters with art and joyful connections for all. Modeled after a Venetian palazzo, unforgettable galleries surround a luminous Courtyard and are home to masters such as Rembrandt, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, Whistler, and Sargent. The Renzo Piano wing provides a platform for contemporary artists, musicians, and scholars and serves as an innovative venue where creativity is celebrated in all of its forms.
The Hanging Nasturtiums installation is supported by Vivien and Alan Hassenfeld, and Elizabeth and Matthew Denison. Courtyard displays in April are made possible, in part, by the Sorenson Fund for Horticulture. Landscape and Horticulture public programs are supported by the Barbara E. Millen and Markley H. Boyer Endowment Fund. The Museum also receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum • 25 Evans Way Boston MA 02215 • Hours: Open Daily from 11a.m. to 5 p.m. and the first Thursday of the month until 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. • Admission: Adults $15; Seniors $12; Students $10; Free for members, children under 18, everyone on his/her birthday, and all named “Isabella” • $2 off admission with a same-day Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ticket • For information 617 566 1401 • Box Office 617 278 5156 • www.gardnermuseum.org.