Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The ART of the GARDENS; the Cummer Museum's 'Hardscape' -- Its Statues, Fountains, Brick Pathways and More -- Adds Beauty to Its Landscape

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The ART of the GARDENS; the Cummer Museum's 'Hardscape' -- Its Statues, Fountains, Brick Pathways and More -- Adds Beauty to Its Landscape

Article excerpt

Byline: Brandy Hilboldt Allport, Times-Union home and garden editor

The gardens at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens are 100 years old. You're invited to celebrate during a week-long garden party. Ninah Cummer herself, the mistress of the gardens at her former home at 829 Riverside Ave., couldn't have planned more fitting festivities.

Japanese magnolias and redbuds are blooming as horticulture experts from all over the United States arrive to give lectures on topics from statuary to unusual plant varieties. Visitors can stroll along the paths and admire salvia and dianthus blooms or the wisteria arbor that will become a lush purple canopy in a few weeks.

Ninah Cummer loved all things about gardening, not just the horticultural aspect. She also took an interest in what designers and landscapers call "the hardscape." Her attention to such things is evident in the brick pathways, fountains, wrought-iron gates and especially the statuary.

During the late 1920s, Ninah Cummer and her husband, Arthur, traveled through Europe, and Ninah fell in love with the elegance and workmanship of the garden ornaments she saw during their tour abroad. She placed orders and in June 1930, the marble lion that now presides over the reflecting pool in the Italian Garden arrived at the Cummer residence as part of a shipment of urns, benches and chairs.

The bill of sale No. 5380 marked "sent direct to Jacksonville through shipper Martinelli from Galleria D'Arte Palazzo Strozzi" is a part of the museum archives and details all those purchases.

"They are so lucky to have that record," said Barbara Israel, an expert on antique garden ornaments who will speak at the Cummer at 1 p.m. Monday. "So many historical residences have invoices for furniture and art and everything inside the home, and nothing about the statuary outside."

Israel, who wrote Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste (Harry N. Abrams Inc. $49.50) will share tips on selecting and placing garden decorations to make the most of their beauty when seen from the garden or from windows inside the house.

You don't have to have a large piece of property or gardens as elaborate as Ninah Cummer's to benefit from Israel's advice. Whether you're in the market for a bird bath, a classical Greek statue or a vintage urn, keep in mind Israel's basic guidelines.

-- Contrast makes pieces stand out.

"If you put a beige bench in front of a beige stucco wall, you're going nowhere," Israel said.

Instead of beige, choose a black wrought iron Regency bench or a dark green cast-iron bench. If you want to keep the beige bench, plant creeping fig or ivy that will climb the wall and create a verdant backdrop.

-- Appreciate the purpose of the object.

"A bird bath is not meant to be planted," Israel said. "It was meant to have water in it."

If you have a statue of a dog, place it somewhere a dog is likely to sit. Put a deer in a wooded area where people might ask themselves, "Is that real?"

-- Elevate the pieces to give them a feeling of importance. It's common to see statues on pedestals, both inside and outside, but don't rule out putting that charming cast-iron frog on top of a 3-inch block that you can get at the same place you buy stones for paths or gravel for driveways.

"Just that little touch elevates the object and tells people, 'This is special,' " Israel said.

Brandy Hilboldt Allport can be reached at (904) 359-4378 or via e-mail at


The people Ninah Cummer and her sister-in-law, Clara Cummer, consulted for advice about design, plant selection and other garden matters reads like a who's who list of 20th century American horticultural experts. Here are highlights of people who contributed suggestions, some of which the women followed. …

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