What It’s Like to Hang Nasturtiums at the Gardner Museum

Lowering the bright orange flowers into the courtyard is an extremely delicate job.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is closed to the public on Tuesdays, but on this particular Tuesday, the place is a quiet flurry of activity.

Inside, a small team of horticulturists is working to install the famed hanging nasturtiums in the museum’s idyllic courtyard. They’re a serious bunch, and they should be—one wrong move would destroy nine months of hard work. They’ve been carefully tending to the nasturtiums in an off-site greenhouse in Hingham over the winter, and now, some vines measure up to 15 feet long.

The flowers are a vibrant (and fragrant) harbinger of springtime. The orange blooms are indeed a treat for the senses if you’re able to see them in time. While it takes months to grow the vines, the short-lived display only lasts for three weeks.

“We’re tricking them into thinking it’s June, when they flower,” says Grace Coburn, a horticulturist at the museum. As she raises a platform to hop inside a truck full of nasturtiums, she explains draping the flowers down the four walls of the courtyard is a delicate job.

“You lower (them) as much as you can before you just let go and hold your breath,” she says. While it’s typically only one person who hangs the vines, it takes four people to carry them upstairs, and another to coach the lowering.

The museum’s chief horticulturist, Stan Kozak, has worked on the nasturtium display for the past 48 years. The installation of the orange flowers is one of the most anticipated days of the year at the Gardner, but Kozak isn’t dwelling on today.

“I’m not going to be happy until two or three days from now when they’re all turned up toward the sunlight,” he says of the flowers, adding “They’ve gone through a lot of stress today.”

So has he.

Here’s how it works:

 

First, the vines are transported from the Gardner’s greenhouse in Hingham to the museum via truck.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Vines are removed from the truck one by one.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

They’re very carefully moved inside…

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

…and placed on the floor slowly and steadily.

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Photo by Madeline Bilis

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Next, horticulturists pinch off yellowing leaves and droopy blooms.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

After all of the vines have made it inside, they’re brought upstairs to be draped over the balconies.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

They’re carried through exhibits…

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

…and finally arrive at their destination: the window.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Then, they’re gingerly hoisted over the balcony.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Chief horticulturist Stan Kozak adjusts vines with guidance from a teammate across the courtyard.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

He painstakingly lowers the vines inch by inch.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Pots of nasturtiums are placed on pedestals in the windows overlooking the courtyard.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

After about 45 minutes, the first window of cascading blossoms is complete.

nasturtiums gardner museum

Photo by Madeline Bilis

Kozak brushes off his hands. “One balcony done,” he says. Three more to go.


Madeline Bilis Associate Editor at Boston Magazine @madelinebilis
mbilis@bostonmagazine.com