March is Garden Month at The Cummer
The Cummer Gardens are beautiful throughout the year, but they peak during the month of March. This year marks the fourth year the museum will host Garden Month to celebrate these remarkable spaces. With a history dating back more than one-hundred years, the Cummer Gardens are places of learning, energy, and respite. Many activities during the month will provide opportunities for all ages and interest levels to explore their beauty and tranquility.
Garden Month will begin with the free family day Kickoff and Plant Sale on March 4, with new plants for sale from local vendors, plein air painting, live music, family art activities, and garden tours throughout the day. Throughout the month on Tuesdays and Thursdays, garden tours will be offered to the public at 11 a.m. A special luncheon and lecture by P. Allen Smith will be offered on March 22, and March 25; Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program will offer a tour of the Cummer Gardens and a number of private gardens in the Riverside neighborhood. Details can be found at www.cummermuseum.org.
The Cummer Gardens were the first passion project of Ninah
Cummer, long before the idea to create a museum was born. Ninah met her future husband, Arthur Gerrish Cummer, while attending the University of Michigan. The couple married in 1897 and relocated to Jacksonville, where Mr. Cummer’s family had established the Cummer Lumber Company the year prior.
Mrs. Cummer recalled Jacksonville as being “a quiet, restful little would-be city of about 3,000 population … the streets, some paved and some unpaved, were lined with wonderful live and water-oak trees. In many places orange trees … scattered their fragrance hither and yon. Often we found in the doorways and parkways beautiful hollies and the fresh, reddish-bronze green of the young camphor trees … the stately magnolia, with her glistening leaves and pungent white blossoms, was so plentiful as to almost assume the proportions of a magnolia grove.”
As a young bride, Ninah Cummer directed the construction of the newlywed’s home, a Tudor-style dwelling completed in 1903, and its grounds. She first sought the advice of well-known Michigan-born landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds on the general arrangement of the grounds. He primarily focused on locating the house, preserving trees already on the property, and consulting on some plant material around the home.
By 1910, Mrs. Cummer was ready to augment the garden. She turned to Philadelphia-based nurserymen and designers Thomas Meehan and Sons for a more formal arrangement in the lower gardens. Meehan recommended hundreds and hundreds of annuals and perennials. This plan must have originally suited Mrs. Cummer because she chose to commemorate the garden, now known as the English Garden, in her personal book plate. However, Mrs. Cummer became frustrated with the inability of many plant specimens to survive the Florida climate. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she attacked the problem head on, embarking on a program of research, trial, and error. This process resulted in gardens that were always evolving. The biggest shift occurred in 1925, when Mrs. Cummer traveled to South Carolina to hear a lecture by Harold Hume on azaleas and quickly incorporated them into her garden.
By Holly Keris