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The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Landscape Management

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Jacksonville, Florida

The Cummer Museum & Gardens commissioned Heritage Landscapes to develop a holistic landscape plan and curatorial management structure for its diverse historic and contemporary property.  The Cummer Cultural Landscape Report & Management Plan (CCLMP) is the first and only comprehensive planning tool directing the landscape toward engaged stewardship of the historic, contemporary, aesthetic, and functional landscape resources that simultaneously address a matrix of sustainability factors.  This planning effort balanced historic preservation, aesthetic quality, diverse public uses, functionality, maintainability, and best practices in sustainability, to frame a robust, community engaged vision for the future of The Cummer landscape.

Heritage Landscapes approached the project collaboratively, engaging the museum leadership in hands-on work sessions throughout.  We initially studied the updated Cummer mission: “To engage and inspire through the arts, gardens and education” and the 2010-2012 strategic plan, developing landscape relevant goals based on both. Prior research by expert historians was secured to compile a complete project document.  The client group requested that we test a recent unrealized  plan for selected areas, against these goals. Envisioning a plan for the entire property through preparation of options that addressed objectives and vigorous discussion of opportunities and constraints. A planning vision for the diverse landscape was achieved. That plan was then subjected to landscape curation and management scrutiny to shape a management plan, staffing positions, and levels of effort. Each element in the CCLMP was vetted and refined in collaborative working design sessions with The Cummer Landscape Committee.

 The CCLMP compiles the intricate history of this Floridian landscape and explains how it was shaped by a series of influential owners and designers over time.  In 1897, Wellington and Ada Cummer built a home on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.  After their son Arthur and his wife Ninah constructed an adjacent residence to the south in 1902, the Cummer family hired master landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds to develop a plan for the compound.  Simonds’s 1903 plan utilized naturalistic sweeps of trees and shrubs to enhance the existing stands of live oaks and other native vegetation along the riverfront.  This plan established a basis for later improvements to the landscape that persist today.  In 1907, Arthur’s brother Waldo and his wife Clara Cummer built a house to the north of the Wellington and Ada Cummer residence and expanded the family compound.  Landscape improvements continued on the properties with input from a number of specialists:

Thomas Meehan & Sons, Philadelphia nurserymen, developed a landscape plan for Arthur and Ninah Cummer with an abundance of native trees, shrubs, and perennials in 1910.

Ninah Cummer, herself a horticultural enthusiast, developed and refined her English Garden over many years, including a pergola, axial paths, garden ornament, fountains, and mosaics. 

Ellen Biddle Shipman, a nationally-recognized landscape architect who was hired in 1931 to plan a new Italian Garden inspired by Ninah and Arthur Cummer’s recent travels throughout Italy.

Olmsted Brothers, the premiere landscape architecture firm at the time, reorganize the Waldo and Clara Cummer estate, planning new features and adjusting grading, drainage, and circulation in accordance with the firm’s longstanding principles of landscape architecture. 

After the deaths of Ninah and Clara Cummer in 1958, the character of The Cummer landscape transformed from residential to a museum institutional use, resulting in landscape change. After years of ownership transition and demolition of homes, The Cummer Gallery (later renamed The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens) was built on the site of the Ninah Cummer house, leaving her riverside gardens intact, and opened in 1961.

Overall, the landscape vision provided in the CCLMP establishes the future direction of curation and management of The Cummer landscape.  Focused research on current use and maintenance efforts inform a comprehensive management plan for the site.  The Cummer landscape can authentically express its history and evolution for the enrichment of the Jacksonville region and its visitors as it is effectively preserved, restored, managed, and stewarded into the future.


The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Cummer Cultural Landscape Report & Management Plan, 2011

Project Credits:
Heritage Landscapes, Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners with Judith Tankard and Charles E. Beveridge, PhD