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Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Submitted by on October 24, 2010 – 1:50 amNo Comment
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The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens was built on the site of the home of Arthur and Ninah Cummer, 829 Riverside Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida. It opened its doors on November 10, 1961.

From Ninah Cummer’s relatively small collection of sixty pieces that launched the museum, The Cummer’s permanent collection has grown to over 5,500 works of art encompassing eight thousand years of art history.

Two acres of formal historic gardens, created by Mrs. Cummer, enhance the museum campus today. The first garden at The Cummer residence was planted in 1903 and followed the English style. The Italian Garden designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950) followed in 1931.

As a young bride, Mrs. Cummer favored plants from her native Indiana, but as she grew more experienced she found plants that thrive in the Florida climate. To this end, Mr. Cummer gave his wife two pots of Agapanthus plants, also known as Lilies of the Nile, rare specimens at the time. Located in the Upper Garden, the plants have multiplied profusely and their spectacular blue blossoms carpet the garden in May. Other plants in the Upper Garden include mondo grass, camellias, dogwood trees, iron plant, and hydrangeas.

The first garden at The Cummer residence was planted in 1903 and followed an English-style garden plan. Wisteria, ‘RĂªve d’Or’ roses, and Lily of the Nile abounded in this garden. Its aspect changed dramatically around 1925. Mrs. Cummer had heard a lecture by noted botanist Dr. H. Harold Hume about the beauty of the azalea, a flower not yet known in Florida horticultural circles. Intrigued by Dr. Hume’s descriptions, Mrs. Cummer traveled to Charleston Gardens to see the azaleas in bloom. Delighted with this discovery, she returned to plant hundreds of these new flowers, which have since transformed Florida’s gardens and parks. At the heart of the symmetrically arranged English or Azalea Garden is a small fountain, one of many delightful garden sculptural elements in The Cummer collection.

The inspiration for the Italian Garden came from a trip Mrs. Cummer made to the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy. Known for its Anglo-Italian design and distinct arches, this garden greatly impressed Mrs. Cummer and in 1931, she asked Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950) to design a similar garden. The Cummer Italian Garden is considered a signature piece in Shipman’s oeuvre of residential gardens and is one of the few Shipman gardens still in existence. Characterized by strong symmetry, quiet elegance and a pastel palette, it contains a series of arches covered with creeping fig that direct the visitor’s gaze through the gardens and over its ponds toward the St. Johns River.

The original plans for the garden are kept in the Cornell University archives and The Cummer archives contain the complete list of plants ordered by Mrs. Cummer. Based on these invaluable records, a recent restoration has returned the Italian Garden to its original splendor.

The Cummer Gardens in Jacksonville reflect the blooming cycle and seasonal variety found in the climate of Northeast Florida. During the fall and winter, the gardens feature bulbs, annuals, shrubs and trees with showy blooms and superb foliage. Typical fall blooming plants are cannas, roses, and dahlias. Winters in Northeast Florida are mild and azaleas, jasmine, sweet peas, pansies and camellias make their appearance.

During the spring and summer, there is a profusion of color and tropical plants. Azaleas bloom in February and March, Agapanthus blossom in May and Crepe Myrtles, appearing in May and June, have the longest blooming season of any flowering tree in Florida.

Throughout the year, the gardens are ablaze with rare horticultural specimens planted under a canopy of mature live oak trees. Features such as reflecting pools, fountains, arbors, antique ornaments, and sculptures help create a special outdoor space that provides a perfect complement to the museum’s collections.

(Photo courtesy of Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens)

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