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Cummer Gardens
Jacksonville, Florida

[Photo]
Cummer Gardens
Photo by keristars via Flickr and Creative Commons

The Cummer Gardens, located on the grounds of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens on the western shore of the St. Johns River, in the historic Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville, encompass 1.45 acres between the west bank of the river and the art museum. The gardens are unique in Florida and the southeast, representing the history of American landscape design in the first four decades of the 20th century. The gardens have direct ties to four leading American landscape designers and firms--Michigan based Ossian Simonds, Philadelphia’s Thomas Meehan & Sons, Ellen Biddle Shipman of New York, and the renowned Olmsted Brothers firm of Massachusetts. Arthur and Ninah Cummer’s once private gardens are now restored and accessible to the public. Ninah Cummer (1875-1958) was an avid educator and promoter of gardening and horticulture through lectures, publications and consultations, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, which originated in her English Garden.

[Photo]
Cummer Gardens
Photo by clinophobia via Flickr and Creative Commons

In the late 1890s, the Wellington Cummer family moved to Jacksonville from Michigan to establish their lumber business. The family became the largest land owner in the state, with more than 500,000 acres. In 1902, Arthur and Ninah Cummer built their Tudor Revival Style home on fashionable Riverside Avenue. In 1903, the first landscape architect involved with the Cummer family was Ossian Cole Simmonds (1855-1931). He prepared a landscape plan for Arthur and Ninah. Ellen Biddle Shipman, another famous landscape architect, known in her lifetime as “The Dean of American Women landscape Architects,” was commissioned to design the Italian Garden in May 1931. Shipman’s commissions spanned the United States, and her clients included the Fords, Astors, duPonts and other captains of industry and patrons of the arts, but of the more than 650 gardens that she designed between 1914 and 1946, few remain intact. The nationally prominent Olmsted Brothers firm, based in Brookline, Massachusetts, was involved with several proposed improvements to the site. In 1922, J. Frederick Dawson of the firm advised Ninah Cummer of the placement of a wall fountain for the English Garden. Waldo and Clara Cummer engaged the firm to design their riverfront garden in 1931. The landscape architect was William Lyman Phillips (1885-1966), now known as “the Pioneer of Tropical Landscape Architecture.”

Initiated in 1903, the southernmost English Garden is planted with azaleas and roses. A wisteria arbor defines the eastern border. Four significant features mark the English Garden:

[Photo]
Cummer Gardens
Photo by clinophobia via Flickr and Creative Commons

A Tea Garden is located in the southwest corner which has an embellished planter designed by Arts & Craft pioneer William Mercer and was where the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs was founded in 1922.
The second feature of the garden, located midway in the south wall, is a working fountain with a basin of green, gold, and white mosaic tiles with a peacock medallion, designed by architect William Mercer.
The third prominent feature is a pool which features mosaics designed by Mercer and a copy of a sculpture by Pietrino de Vinci. The beds are planted with azaleas, seasonal blooms and roses.
The fourth, and primary, feature of the English Garden is the large wisteria arbor at the east end of the garden, which features and outstanding display of wisteria.

[Photo]
Cummer Gardens

Photo by keristars via Flickr and Creative Commons

A tiered lawn is immediately north of the English Garden. The 1931 Italian Garden is north of the tiered lawn and defined by three pools, Italian cypress, azaleas, antique roses, and daylilies. Other specimens in this garden include camellias, redbud, calamondins, and dogwoods, with roses climbing a wall on the north side. An arched “gloriette” defines the eastern boarder of the Italian Garden.  The 1931 Olmsted Garden, currently under restoration, is comprised of a curved stairway, a portico, and three distinct garden rooms that reflect the design philosophy of the firm’s founder, especially with regard to rusticity and the careful placement of scenic vistas.  Noteworthy architectural features in the Olmsted Garden include a pergola, a serpentine stair, and a grotto.
On the property but not included within the National Register boundary is the Cummer Museum of Art, and the Woman’s Club of Jacksonville, currently known as the Edward W. Lane Jr. building. With nearly 5,000 objects in its permanent collection, The Cummer offers art and artifacts from the ancient world as well as paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages through the 20th Century. The Cummer Gardens were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 25, 2010.

Extracted from the National Register documentation prepared by Janet M. Alford and Holly Keris, as well as Robert O. Jones, Historic Preservationist.

The museum and gardens are open to the public. For more information, visit:
http://www.cummer.org

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