Something to Crow About!

Hallelujah!  There’s finally a new bloom in the garden.

Seemannia x hybrida

Seemannia x hybrida

This hardy gloxinia was added a couple of months ago.  Purchased at the Raleigh Farmers Market from my favorite plant vendor, Urban Oasis, it settled in quickly and began to grow in just a few weeks.

I was surprised, however, to discover it in bloom, as my shady garden doesn’t lend itself to drama after the excitement of spring has passed.  This spot gets about 30 minutes of light in the early afternoon (around 2ish) and, luckily, the plant has received a good bit of moisture from afternoon thunderstorms, as the sloping site is especially well drained.

I know nothing about this particular hybrid, it’s not in my most reliable reference book, and I can’t find a thing about it on the internet.  Who cares?!  It’s a pretty little bloom in an eye-catching red, with an orange-yellow throat dotted with dark spots.  The foliage is rather nice too, don’t you think?

Isabella’s Courtyard

The recent tour to Boston & the Berkshires was a overwhelming success and many of the Hortitopia group noted the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum was a great favorite.  I have to admit, it stole my heart too, not only because of its art and artifacts, but especially for its dreamy interior courtyard.

Interior courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston, from the North Cloister.

Interior courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston, from the North Cloister.

By all accounts, Isabella was a remarkable woman.  The firstborn of a wealthy New York family, she married a schoolmate’s brother, John Lowell (Jack) Gardener, just days before her 20th birthday and became a Bostonian.  Within five years she bore and lost her only child, a son called Jackie.  After suffering a subsequent miscarriage and being advised against further attempts to have children, she sank into a deep depression.  Soon after, Jack traveld with Isabella to Europe for a change of scene, where they crossed Norway to see the midnight sun and visited St. Petersburg, Vienna, Paris, and other lively cities.

In time, a love of travel and intellectual pursuits fueled Isabella’s ebullient personality and sometimes unconventional behavior.  Celebrated as a millionaire Bohemienne and leader of the smart set, she became friend and patron to noted artists and writers, including John Singer Sargent and Henry James.

The Roman mosaic, Medusa, from the East Cloister.

The Roman mosaic, Medusa, from the East Cloister.

In the 1890s, with an inheritance from her father in hand, Isabella began collecting in earnest, building a world-class collection of paintings, statues, tapestries, manuscripts, architectural elements, and other remarkable pieces.  The museum planned by the Gardeners to house these treasures, and which Isabella built after Jack’s sudden death in 1898, was modeled after a Venetian palazzo. Fenway Court, as it was then known, opened to great acclaim (and a champaigne and donuts celebration) in 1903.

Closeup of the fountain taken from the West Cloister.

Closeup of the fountain taken from the West Cloister.

As noted in the museum’s companion guide and history written by Hilliard T. Goldfarb, “She had turned the facades of a Venetian palazzo inward on each other to form a courtyard, a graceful oasis filled with flowers, palms, and fountains.  Eight balconies overlook a mosaic bought in Rome that is surrounded by Roman statues.  At the entrance to the courtyard stand the lion stylobates purchased for Gardener by her husband in Florence.  Natural light, which was critical to Gardener, streams through the skylight, bathing the entire courtyard with its evanescent effects.’”

A peek, from the West Cloister, at the skylight and some of the balconies.

A peek, from the West Cloister, at the skylight and some of the balconies.

In 2003, the courtyard was redesigned as part of the museum’s centennial celebration to reflect the lush style popular in Isabella’s day.  Now, floral displays are planned and executed around seasonal themes up to 9 times a year.

Last week, chimney bellflower (Campanula pyramidalis) drew oohs and aahs as the courtyard’s prima donna, while hydrangeas acted as supporting players.

The bellflowers are grown from seed in greenhouses by the museum’s horticulturists.  As biennials, it takes two years for the plants to reach maturity and produce the 6-foot tall spikes of bell-shaped blooms.  Native to southern Europe, chimney bellflowers were grown as a summer embellishment for the fireless grate in the 17th to 19th centuries, which accounts for the plant’s common name.

Holly among the bellflowers, taking a photo.

Holly among the bellflowers, taking a photo.

With careful observation, you can see many of the courtyard’s decorative and green plants remain in pots, though most containers are hidden, so they are easily exchanged with greenhouse replacements.  The balconies provide visitors a unique view of the courtyard from nearly every room.  In turn, the courtyard illuminates the museum’s collections and arouses intimate relationships between art and landscape.

The amazing museum offers three floors of outstanding art, including Titian’s Rape of Europa (1560-1562), Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (1629), and Sargent’s Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast (1882-1883), plus thousands of other carefully selected and curated pieces.  Today, the space also hosts exhibitions, concerts, lectures, performances, and an Artist-in-Residence program.

The fourth level served as Isabella’s home until her passing in the summer of 1924.  In September that year, her niece, Olga Monks, wrote, “It seems strange to go to Fenway Court and lonely.  Bolgi [her assistant] told me a few days ago that he often thought he heard her calling him, but her people work as they feel she would have wanted them to do and the place must always remain live for that was the idea in the original conception and in the execution of the idea, a living message of the beauty in art in each generation.”

A lingering look at Isabella's legacy...

A lingering look at Isabella’s legacy…


Though the feeders at home attract a wide range of bird species for our enjoyment, Tim and I had the thrill of getting a close look at bald eagles in Alaska this week, where we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary.  On Thursday, with our cruise ship docked in Ketchikan, we visited Clover Pass Marina where a wildlife expedition provided an opportunity to observe an eagle pair on the nest.  While the smaller male guarded the hatchlings, the female was tempted close to our Zodiac by a gift of herring tossed into the bay by the boat captain.

Pair of nesting eagles near Clover Pass Marina; the female observes our approach.  The nest is at bottom center, the male is just a few feet above, shrouded by foliage.

Pair of nesting eagles near Clover Pass Marina; the female observes our approach. The nest is at bottom center, the male is just a few feet above, shrouded by foliage.

Swooping in for the fish...

Swooping in for the fish…

Almost there...

Almost there…

Got it!

Got it!

Porch Update, July 23

Construction of the porch is continuing at a good pace although progress has slowed because of the nature of the work. Large parts of the job, including windows and wiring, are now in place and contractors are beginning to get to grips with details.

Most of the exterior trim is complete and you can see from the photo below the alignment of wood and masonry columns.  The roof, which is only a little more than 2-feet tall, is not visible from the garden, but lifts the ceiling height inside the room to 10 feet, adding to its spaciousness.


From the opposite direction, you get a better sense of the space under the porch.  Soon, the brick mason will return to lay footings and walls between the columns, raising the patio level to within inches of the basement door.  Before the job is complete, the area will be regraded so it is an easy step from garden to the paved surface.


I’m particularly pleased with the patio ceiling, completed just yesterday.  The trim around each of the columns and the extra stringers creating the effect of a coffered ceiling are handsome details.


Inside, the ceiling’s drywall is up and nearing completion.  I can’t wait to show you the ceiling color I’ve chosen, but will save that surprise for later.  Next week, work will begin on the interior columns, as well as the window and wall trim that will complete the space.  The floor will be red oak, finished to match existing hardwoods throughout the house.


The room is dark because of a protective film which coats both the inside and outside of the windows.  I like to imagine the day, sometime soon, when I’ll be dazzled by the light!

Many thanks to my friend and neighbor, Mike Carter, plus the Renaissance crew, for their excellent work and making the process so easy.