Like the juxtaposition of the Taft Museum of Art's new and modern wing with the lovely old bones of the galleries in the late-Federal period Taft house, the gardens that spread out from the buildings are a harmonious marriage of contrasts. Redesigned and cleverly built above the parking garage with a prodigious amount of dirt, the gardens are a fine match for the newly-reopened museum.
Featuring both a formal lawn framed by soft all-white plantings and a tiny woodland glade punctuated by water features, the gardens draw visitors outside through the new wing. Though many museum patrons were worried that the renovation of the Taft Museum would take away the charm of the small plot of land, the redesign of the gardens actually allows for a better view of the back of the Taft mansion and partitions out a new area for parties and events, while keeping the garden a peaceful, private space.
But it's the Taft's garden discoveries that, like the improved galleries' surprises, are the best part of the renovation. A brick path sloping past young magnolia trees leading visitors to a tucked-away bench, a secret garden corner already almost hidden under the new growth of trees and plants, the careful placement of round, metal water fountains, and the lush cream flowers waking up to May in the starched, prim lines of the formal garden — these elements give personality to the design of the new space.
The new Taft gardens, still adolescent, have been planted with room to grow. While charming, they don't yet have the propriety of the house they frame. The garden, like the museum's new wing, will grow to meld with the old spaces Taft museum-goers have loved for so long. For now they are a quiet retreat for reveries on the Taft's Rembrandts, murals and wide-ranging paintings.