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CORRESPONDENCE: The Monk’s Garden 1903-2013

The Gardner Museum recently commissioned Michael Van Valkenburgh to design a new four-season garden on the site of what Isabella Gardner called her “Monk’s Garden.” The redesigned Monk’s Garden, sited to the east of the historic palace, opened in September 2013 as part of the Museum’s expanded campus. CORRESPONDENCE features design process and construction drawings of the new garden, as well as communications between the design team and contractors responsible for its construction. The exhibition centers on a pair of letters between Museum director Anne Hawley and Van Valkenburgh describing their aspirations for the new garden at the beginning of the design process. The exhibition also presents photographs that illustrate how greatly the garden has changed over the years.

Van Valkenburgh’s design of the Monk’s Garden interprets the Museum’s meandering gallery layout, and the rich colors and textures of its idiosyncratic collection, in a contemporary landscape context. While the garden is accessible (weather permitting) from both the original Museum building and Renzo Piano’s new addition, it is not the primary connection between them, freeing it to focus instead on cultivating a sense of place. The garden is given its own interior, with the aim of provoking extended quiet contemplation rather than hurried passage.

The original high brick wall of Fenway Court surrounds the garden, and the design aims to soften this enclosure through the creation of a small-scale, dreamlike woodland. Composed of approximately 60 trees including stewartia, paper bark maple, and gray birch, the groves establish a detail-rich palette of colors and textures suitable for intimate appreciation. Winding paths, paved in a striking combination of black brick and reflective mica schist, meander through the trees. Rather than intersecting, the paths playfully meet and diverge, while also gently widening in places to create nooks for garden chairs. Please join us in the new garden.