Irma deals blow to iconic Cummer Museum gardens

Riverside landmark damaged when St. Johns River overflows in storm


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hurricane Irma dealt a heavy blow to a Riverside landmark as the Cummer Museum's three gardens were wiped out when the St. Johns River overflowed its banks during the storm.

Cellphone video captured waves from the river crashing into the gardens, which were submerged for more than 24 hours. The floodwaters took out railings, uprooted trees and drowned plants.

The iconic Cummer Oak appears to have been spared visible damage, but it will need a checkup by professionals to be sure.

PHOTOS: Aftermath of Irma at Cummer Museum gardens

Museum officials said it's going to take a lot of time and money to bring the beloved gardens back to life.

"We were absolutely devastated when we came out here,” said Holly Keris, chief operating officer for the Cummer Museum. "The caps on the piers you can see are either twisted or are completely missing."

What used to be a colorful sanctuary that has hosted many events and weddings now looks like a neglected yard full of brown, wilted shrubbery and a mess of debris.

It's a hard sight for many who have made lasting memories in the gardens.

"It's the place where they got engaged. It's the place where they got married. It's the place they bring their kids on the weekends,” Keris said. “So to have them looking like this, it's hard for all of us."

Museum officials said it's too early to estimate how much restoring the gardens will cost, but museum staff expect the gardens to be closed for an extended period of time.

The museum is working to accommodate those who have scheduled events at the gardens and is currently charging half price for admission as long as the gardens are closed.

Any extra money donated will go toward the restoration efforts.

The public cannot help with cleanup of the gardens because the museum has to hire arborists and other specialists to come assess all of the plants and debris left behind.

But anyone who wants to help with the restoration can donate at http://www.cummermuseum.org/donate.