Extension + Preservation Project
Summer in the Courtyard
With the warmth of summer, the character of the Gardner’s lush courtyard changes. The slanting light of the summer sun cuts across the flowering plants, but the courtyard remains a cool retreat. Late-flowering hydrangeas are everywhere, beginning with large, spectacular mopheads and ending with the tall Hydrangea paniculata grandifolia, known in America as PeeGees. Pee Gees are fragrant hydrangeas that fill the courtyard with their sweet scent. In late June and July, the statuesque Agapanthus appears in the courtyard with its large umbels of inky blue flowers.
Green tropical plants provide a soothing frame for the blue and white flowers in the courtyard. In the summer, the palms and ferns absorb the increased light, and new growth appears, providing light green highlights. Nerium oleander, commonly known as just oleander, can be seen in the north end of the courtyard during the summer months. Native to the Mediterranean, this highly toxic plant is frequently grown in greenhouses in cooler climates for its ornamental qualities. At the Gardner, the fragrance of oleander’s showy white flowers drifts from the courtyard through the North Cloister.
Hydrangeas are low shrubs grown for their magnificent flowers. The word ‘hydrangea’ comes from the Greek words hydor for water and aggeion for vessel, referring to the plant’s cup-shaped fruit. Since most of the hydrangeas we see are hybrids that are mostly sterile, we never see the fruit.
Most of the ornamental hydrangeas we know are descendents of Asian species. Hydrangea macrophyla, or big leaf hydrangea, is native to Japan. The mophead and lacecap hydrangeas seen in the courtyard are big leaf hydrangeas.
Come to the Gardner this month to experience the cool splashing of the fountain, the contemplative setting of the courtyard with its marble statues set in the greenery, and the subtle scents and sights of the flowering plants. . .
On view mid-June through late July
FREE with museum admission
Image: Courtyard, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.