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Chrysanthemums Display Continues Horticultural Tradition

The Gardner Museum welcomes another autumn with its annual Chrysanthemums display this month. Nearly 50 varieties of the flower appear among the statues and more permanent fixtures of the Courtyard. The Museum's team of horticulturalists and Landscape staff makes this display possible with passion and persistence. We recently spoke with someone who would know better than most about the care and cultivation of these amazing plants.

Stan Kozak, Chief Horticulturalist at the museum, noted that chrysanthemums have been a part of the Gardner Museum's growing practices for many years. "We've always had chrysanthemums. I'm sure varieties have changed over the years, but a lot of our displays are a part of a big tradition at the Museum."

Chrysanthemums grown by Museum staff have long enjoyed special attention. When the Massachusetts Horticultural Society held its annual Autumn Flower Show in November 1934, the Museum's Director Morris Carter presented a display (pictured at left) which crowds marveled over, calling it "more modernistic than Radio City." It received the society's Burrage Cup, an honor awarded to "the most outstanding exhibit at any show during the year."

"The exhibit is the Isabella Stewart [Gardner] Museum display designed and executed by the museum director, Morris Carter. It is a modernistic stage, with steps of blue winding up to the tiers. At the base of the lower steps is a floral cluster which includes the four colors and the four varieties of chrysanthemums which are carried out so effectively through the entire scene. They are in yellow, white, delicate lavender, and deep crimson. The varieties are the long sprays of cascades, the large single blooms, the ragged or spider like flowers and the pyramids," wrote another Boston Globe reporter on November 9, 1934.

In 2008, the Museum introduced a new Chrysanthemums Display for the Courtyard as conceived by then Curator of Landscape Patrick Chasse which introduced the large single blooms. The staff at the greenhouses must regularly pinch off the plants' side growth to maintain the single-stem Japanese-style chrysanthemums, known as ogiku.

Constantly battling disease, insects, and time, the staff begins growing the flowers in late spring or early summer. The chrysanthemums are grown at offsite greenhouses, and brought into the Museum's new greenhouses once they are ready to be displayed. The staff must produce enough plants to constantly rotate the flowers in the Courtyard with flowers from the greenhouses, so each bloom appears at the height of its beauty.

Kozak imagined the display would affect the way visitors perceive the surrounding galleries. "I think [Isabella Gardner] would be happy with everyone's thoughts and ideas."

Kozak has watched the Museum transform significantly in his 42 years of service. He has greeted a new director, landscape curators, horticulturalists and an entire new wing, but he is immensely proud of the Courtyard.

"I think once you enter the Courtyard it is the beginning of the old building, the Museum itself. If people have never been here and then see the Courtyard, I think it makes them more energetic to see what the rest of the Museum looks like," said Kozak. Chrysanthemums runs through November.

See galleries of chrysanthemums that have appeared in the Courtyard this year on our Facebook page:
Chrysanthemums 1 | Chrysanthemums 2 | Chrysanthemums 3

The Chrysanthemums display is made possible in part by the Barbara Millen and Markley H. Boyer Endowment Fund for Horticulture.