The Monks garden, he said, started with the idea of "maybe not getting anywhere," in keeping with the museum's spirit. Mrs. Gardner's original plan for the Monks Garden was Italianate in style, and Van Valkenburgh said she never got it right.
"I wanted to be sure we made a garden for the future of the Gardner Museum, not designed for the new or the old," he said.
The path is composed of black brick interspersed with bricks of micah schist that have a glimmering quality like the Venetian mirror in the museum, says Van Valkenburgh. Special care was taken during construction to preserve a majestic Japanese katsura tree that forms a canopy over much of the garden. New plantings include a "forest" of gray birch, Japanese stewartia, and paperbark maples, along with 'Hetz Wintergreen' arborvitae -- a vertical screen that frames both ends of the space. Garden beds beneath the trees are planted densely with wild gingers, ferns and hellebores that form a green carpet throughout the year. Perennials that flower at different times provide interest throughout the seasons: lots of spring bulbs, daylilies and black cohosh, camellias and sharp-lobed hepatica.
Museum Director Anne Hawley said the Monks Garden is "the heart of the museum's outdoor spaces -- visible from within both the new wing and the historic building and steeped in history and meaning." Indeed it is, and well worth a visit, or many.