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Berries & Grasses (390 pixel)    

Grass and Berries Courtyard Display

Will the snow of the next year
remember my footsteps
among the summer grass?

-- Okakura Kakuzo

Okakura, the Japanese art historian and critic, came to Boston in 1904 to work with the Asian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts and was introduced to Isabella Gardner. They became devoted friends and he was her frequent guest and correspondent. (At this time he was dividing his year between Boston and Japan.)

The short poem above was written in Mrs. Gardner’s guest book on July 25, 1911, just before Okakura was scheduled to return to Japan. His skillful use of traditional, seasonal sentiments to reveal fresh ideas through familiar scenes charmed Mrs. Gardner.

Autumn signals a time of transition. In Japan, the verdant summer Miscanthus growing freely on the hills and fields changes to waving plumes in the autumn wind. Miscanthus is a reminder of the exquisite, bittersweet approach of autumn. This grass, one of the seven traditional flowers of autumn, is frequently seen in decorative art and gardens. Native to Japan and China, the flowers or plumes are held erect above the leaves and frequently remain on the plant long into the winter.

At the mid-September moon-viewing (tsukimi) festival, many Japanese travel to a garden to see the moon in the reflection of a lake. In Heian times, the nobles would celebrate the Harvest Moon by drinking sake and composing poetry. Today balconies display Miscanthus and plates of rice dumplings and taro potatoes in honor of the moon. 

The Grass and Berries courtyard display is a new innovation at the museum. With the changing weather, the palette of the courtyard takes on autumn hues: purple-leaf sand cherries (Prunus cistena); flame-orange tones of Virginia sweetspire ‘Henry’s Garnet’ (Itea virginica); bright red berries of Pyracantha; and many examples of ripening sedges and grasses in subtle sable tones.

Among the grasses on display: silver plume grass (Miscanthus sinensis); pinky-red foxtails of purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'); and the shimmering dark red seed heads of Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry.’ Hakonechloa macra, a wind-combed forest grass native to Japan, is new this year. (This rare plant with only one genus is named for the Japanese province, Hakone, plus chloe, Greek for grass.)

And don’t miss ~

Ask the Gardener
Free with admission
Friday, September 18 @ 11am-Noon

Stop by the courtyard to chat with a member of the Gardner’s horticulture staff. Find out more about the plants in the current display -- and how the museum keeps the courtyard garden in bloom year round. Additional dates to be added throughout the year; check the Gardner’s events calendar online for more information.

September 2009