We visited The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville at the end of March with friends who live in St. Augustine (about 1 hour south). We were very impressed with the accessibility of such an old property. They incorporated ramps (and provided a map of those ramps) in architecturally beautiful ways. I recommend you make a stop no matter what time of year if you are in the area.
The gardens are small but visually exciting, so you can spend mere minutes or hours, in the gardens and in the museum. The Cummer boasts a beautiful garden located on the banks of the St. Johns River in Northeast Florida.
It is divided into rooms, each with its own name. They don’t seem like separate gardens, but an integrated whole. I found only one piece of modern sculpture in the gardens, and that one didn’t photograph well because of the windows directly behind it. Everything else in the gardens, no matter what the period seemed to flow seamlessly into each other. So I call them a single garden.
Famous landscaping firms were involved in the gardens’ design and horticulture. But almost all of the garden is under or adjacent to giant live oak trees and it is these behemoths that set the stage for the garden.
The gardens were created in the early 1900s. Arthur Cummer and his brother, Waldo, came from a long line of Michigan lumber barons. They built their homes on either side of their parents, Ada and Wellington Cummer, on the banks of the St. Johns River. The brothers led the Cummer Lumber Company, while their wives, Ninah Cummer and Clara Cummer, masterminded the gardens surrounding their homes. Those gardens are now one of the glories of the museum and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Ossian Cole Simonds designed the original garden using native trees and shrubs at the time of its development by the Cummer family. The formal English Garden was designed in 1910 by Thomas Meehan and Sons with a magnificent wisteria-laden cypress arbor.
Ellen Biddle Shipman designed the Italian Garden in 1931 as the ultimate display garden for Ninah’s large collection of Italian marble garden ornaments and hundreds of azaleas. Two long reflecting pools frame the view to the green, ficus-covered gloriette that resembles the famous water gardens at the Villa Gamberaia in Tuscany.
Waldo and Clara Cummer engaged William Lyman Phillips, a partner in the Olmsted Brothers firm, to incorporate the elder Cummer’s property in the 1930′s (which they inherited) into their existing gardens. These gardens were partially obliterated in the early 1960s, when both homes were demolished to make way for a new museum building to house Ninah Cummer’s art collection, but plans are in place to restore this landscape to its former glory.
You can imagine the number of wedding photo shoots this place must handle. We didn’t realize that the Museum and Gardens closes an hour earlier on some days than last year, so we don’t have photos of the museum collection, but I was able to pick up a large cement bunny rabbit holding a basket ready for filling with plants that we will cart back to Maryland and use in our own garden.
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