The Cummer Museum of Art reopens to the public Thursday but the Cummer Gardens, which sustained significant damage during Hurricane Irma, will be closed to the public for the foreseeable future.
The three gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, remained under water for more than 24 hours during and after the storm. Because of the salinity of the water, there is concern that many of the plants as well as the grass may die, said Holly Keris, the Cummer’s chief operating officer.
Plants were uprooted, railings broken and the bulkhead compromised. Much of the infrastructure including drainage, electric equipment, perimeter fencing, the fountain and a well were damaged.
A large wooden plank formerly located at the southwestern end of property is now part of a large pile of debris at the northeastern edge of the property in the Olmsted Garden.
In recent years the Cummer has invested about $850,000 in the 2013 restoration of the Olmsted Garden and the 2017 restoration of the English Garden; the reconstruction of the Italian Garden Folly (an ornamental building); work on the brick pathways and the drainage system; conservation of sculptures and fountains; fortification of the bulkhead; and construction of new bulkhead railing.
Among the glories of the Cummer Gardens have been many species of azaleas that Ninah Cummer propagated on the property, which are not easily replaced.
“Mrs. Cummer worked with several gardeners to create varieties of azalea species that would thrive in Florida’s climate,” Keris said. “In order to replace these, museum staff will need to propagate new plants from healthy specimens on the property. We will be working as quickly as possible to create a plan for the future of these beloved gardens.”
SLIDESHOWS: IRMA'S AFTERMATH
While the gardens were badly damaged and an oak located in the Cummer parking lot was lost, the building and its collection survived the storm without any significant damage or loss of power.
As is standard procedure when a major storm threatens, staff removed many of the art works and placed them in secure storage, Keris said. That includes all the art from the Stein Gallery, which has windows facing the river, any art work that is on loan and any Cummer pieces that are considered especially vulnerable to moisture and temperature changes.
Cummer staff members spent Wednesday rehanging the art.
The admission price, normally $10 for adults and $6 for seniors, students through college with ID and military with ID, will be half price while the gardens are closed, Keris said. If visitors chose to pay the full price, half of those dollars will go to a garden restoration fund. The Cummer is also setting up a website — www.cummermuseum.org/garden-reconstruction — so people can donate to the garden restoration fund.
Despite the disappointment of the damage done to the Cummer Gardens, Keris was philosophical about Irma’s impact.
“It could have been so much worse,” she said.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville is also reopening Thursday. The Museum of Science & History reopened Wednesday.
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413