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Wrecked Cummer Gardens Among Jacksonville Casualties Of Irma

Among the casualties of Hurricane Irma’s storm surge in Jacksonville are the historic gardens at the riverfront Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. The gardens are now closed indefinitely as the damage is accessed by the museum staff.

Chief Curator Holly Keris said the museum started prepping for Irma almost a week before the storm hit, taking some art off walls and packing up an exhibition to get it back to its home at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“(That way) it didn’t get trapped on the road in the storms,” Keris said Thursday.

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Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
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WJCT News
Storm water submerged the entire lower tier of all the garden spaces for more than24 hours.

The Cummer’s building and the art inside were spared. Keris said the museum got really lucky,  but the outside is a different story. “It was devastating,” she said of learning about the damage.

Storm water submerged the entire lower tier of all the garden spaces for more than 24 hours. The gardens are now littered with debris, uprooted plants and toppled trees, a far cry from their usual meticulously trimmed hedges, sculptures and clear reflection pools with a St. Johns River view.

“The impact that they took as part of this storm is really unlike anything I’ve seen in my 14 year tenure at the museum,” Keris said.

There’s also damage that can’t be seen, to the well and electrical systems, she said.

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Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
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WJCT News
The gardens are littered with debris, uprooted plants and toppled trees

The first of three gardens was developed in 1903 and all of them were designed and planted by nationally-known landscape artists in the early 1900s. That’s one reason they are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. And they really haven’t changed much since then.

Keris said museum staff approaches the gardens with the same level of care and attention they approach the indoor art pieces. In addition to referencing historical photos, the museum and gardens founder Ninah Cummer wrote everything down.

“Mrs. Cummer was a dedicated record keeper so we have all of the plant logs and journals so we know exactly what plant variety she bought, where she bought them from, what color she bought them in,” Keris said.

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Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
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WJCT News
Among the casualties of Hurricane Irma’s storm surge in Jacksonville are the historic gardens at the riverfront Cummer Museum of Arts & Gardens.

The museum hasn’t yet been able to quantify the damages, but Keris said the plan is to restore everything exactly as it was before.

“The gardens are a very special place for a lot of people from a historical standpoint, from a landscape, architecture standpoint, from a plant specimen standpoint and from a sentimental and emotional standpoint too,” Keris said.

In the meantime, the museum is open at half-price, but for those willing to pay full price, half the proceeds will go to support the garden rehabilitation.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride.