Sunday, 17 June 2012

Garden Museum

It’s been on my agenda to visit the Garden Museum in London for so long that I’d almost given up hope of making it, last Friday however the opportunity finally arose and I feel bound therefore to log my visit here for posterity! I arrived following a walk along the Thames from Westminster in the pouring rain, which tried hard to spoil that well known view across the river to the Palace. I was so glad to arrive, feeling a little damp around the edges, and was thankful for the entrance vestibule which allowed me space to peel off my waterproofs before heading into museum to dry out.  

Garden Museum-London-2012-Gary Webb.

 I’d checked the website to see what was happening, and who doesn’t these days - opening times, current exhibitions and so on, but I was keen to leave as much as possible to discovery on the day. After all, this was ‘the’ garden museum, in the nation’s capital, so surely it would be worth the effort? In fact, one of the most recent things I’d heard about the museum was a flattering compliment about its garden café – and luckily, I’d timed my arrival perfectly for lunch – wink wink!


Housed in and around St Mary’s Church, next to Lambeth Palace, the museum could be described as slightly inconspicuous. The visitor entrance I’d also describe as subtle and restrained, but either way, the welcome is very well staged and appropriate for such a lovely historical church. Once through the churchyard gate for instance, you’re immediately within a ‘green’ setting, which is reminiscent of churches around the country; not merely a graveyard through which you pass to reach the door, but a charmed and respectful space – a wildlife oasis within the busy capital. Once inside the main door, the room opens up invitingly to your right to reveal collections, café and shop, all housed within the church building itself, which was especially adapted in 2008 to a modern design, making excellent use of the church which was previously earmarked for demolition. There is of course a garden to experience, but I’ll save this for now…

The introduction from the lady behind the counter was lovely, and I was really made to feel welcome – which was nice considering the rough weather which was now, thankfully, the other side of the solid Victorian masonry and stained glass. You wouldn’t think it was the middle of June, just two weeks ago I remember watching coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant which had passed nearby on the Thames - that also received a thorough soaking!

Garden Museum-St Marys-London-Gary Webb.

I’m reluctant to go to infinite detail about the remainder of the museum, as this is best left to all who visit, needless to say however that I wasn’t let down. My only deflation at all was for the café, which closed earlier than I expected, preventing me from sampling the nice-looking cakes I’d spied whilst ordering lunch earlier. On the positive side however, the Mushroom Stroganoff and cold salad was just delicious, the best I’ve had by far and the welcome, once again, was warm and genuine.

For me, the highlight had to be one of the temporary exhibitions titled “GARDEN OPEN TODAY! 300 Years of Garden Visiting”. I wandered in without much thought to what the exhibition would hold, in fact I’ll admit I naively expected some kind of ‘national garden scheme’ styled exhibition throughout, no disrespect to the NGS of course. I think that on reflection, it may have been the ‘Garden Open’ styled posters outside the exhibition which threw me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, and it turned out to be a fascinating exhibition that really engaged me once inside.

Knot Garden-17th Century Style-Garden Museum-Gary Webb.

As someone who can study old books, images, prints, paintings and engravings from dusk till dawn, especially those linked with gardens and architecture, I found myself glued to each exhibit for much longer than was probably healthy. The selected images allowed a walk through some of our most prominent gardens over last three centuries. With each image I travelled time and became a Dr Who of the garden visiting kind!

I quickly became lost in the detail and travelled miles of grass and gravel footpaths within just a few paces, via some amazing and very special images. I was technically engaged also, trying to work out what the plants were and how the gardeners of the time could possibly have created the wonderful topiary screens; especially considering the primitive gardening tools, some of which I had just seen in the permanent collection that resides upstairs in the museum. The exhibition was very interesting and quite a turn up considering my expectations – I learned a great deal indeed.

Agapanthus-Garden Museum London-Gary Webb.

On the whole, I found the Garden Museum friendly and inviting, and it more than lived up to my expectation, not only due to the content in exhibition but also due to the range of materials and items on display throughout. I haven’t even spoke of the knot garden, but I hope the photos in amongst the text give a taste of its charm – the knot was frothing over with beautiful, period plants, many of which were labelled with dates of introduction.

This short log of my ‘first’ visit to the museum also wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the tomb within the garden to the Tradescants, both elder and younger, I’ll post a link to the Tradescant’s below for more information, but suffice to say that both of the John’s contributed much in terms of gardening and plant collecting to our nation, both ultimately becoming Royal gardeners. Their tomb is exquisite as you can see, and it is their connection with Lambeth and St Mary’s that inspired the saving of the building and its use as the Garden Museum.

Tradescant Tomb-Garden Museum-London-Gary Webb.

I must stress that the described exhibition only runs for one more week, closing on the 24th June 2012. I’m glad I finally made it there, and I look forward to seeing how the exciting new developments are carried forward following a successful bid for funding. If you are able to visit either for the current or future exhibitions I would definitely recommend it, it is a great and green venue and all there appear devoted to the task of, as the website states ‘celebrate the design, history and art of gardens’. Links to more information at bottom of post.

Garden Museum, London
Tradescant - Wikipedia
Tradescant - Ashmolean

No comments: