The Garden Museum Blossoms Anew In Lambeth

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 37 months ago
The Garden Museum Blossoms Anew In Lambeth
Well you can't have a Garden Museum that doesn't have its own garden.

Napoleon may have referred to the English as a nation of shopkeepers, but a nation of gardeners may be more apt. Head to any garden centre on a sunny weekend and it's as busy as Waterloo at rush hour.

So what could be a more fitting theme for a Museum than gardening? London had a Garden Museum until 2015, when it closed for a major refurbishment.

The interior is beautiful with stunning stained glass windows.

The new and improved Garden Museum is now open to the public so we went to have a potter around.

The building itself has a great history. St Mary-at-Lambeth used to be a local church before it was de-consecrated and was scheduled to be demolished in the 1970s. It was then rescued to become the Museum of Garden History — an idea that came about as the churchyard holds the tombs of two 17th century Royal Gardeners, the wonderfully named John Tradescant (elder and younger).

Inside the Tradescant Ark gallery, telling the stories of its namesake.

The history continues right up to today; when the museum was being refurbished, a collection of coffins were found including the remains of five former Archbishops of Canterbury.

Though the museum is no longer a church, the wonderful architecture remains, so we step into a beautifully airy interior complete with stained glass windows.

Hard at work in one of the smaller stained glass windows.

The bell tower is still accessible with hourly tours up some 131 uneven steps on a claustrophobic climb. But it's worth it for a lovely view over the Thames including the London Eye, Palace of Westminster and the museum's neighbour, Lambeth Palace.

That's the history, but what about the museum itself?

Eileen Hogan as the artist-not-in-residence is one of the temporary exhibitions.

There are three temporary exhibitions on display. This includes landscape paintings by Eileen Hogan the 'artist not in residence' (the museum was closed, so she wasn't actually in residence) and a selection of Botanical watercolours.

The garden theme continues throughout the museum. Image courtesy Garden Museum.

There's also the Tradescant Ark, a gallery dedicated to the aforementioned Tradescants — gardeners to Charles I. They had a a collection of artefacts that was sent to Oxford when they died, but the Ashmolean Museum has loaned items from the collection, including animal skulls, to the Garden Museum.

We enjoyed constructing our own model garden.

Upstairs is where the permanent collection lies. Here visitors will find all things gardening, from croquet sets to garden gnomes, trowels to slug killer. The wooden sets for designing our own model garden is a highlight, which lots of fellow visitors were enjoying with us.

Inside the permanent collection. Image courtesy Garden Museum.

Paintings of gardeners sit alongside a working clockwork model of a man dispensing seeds. We were worried that a museum about gardening could be very dry, but it never gets so technical so as to alienate the less than green-fingered.

We liked this functioning clockwork seed dispenser.

All the benches are actual garden benches and a video about sheds is actually hosted inside a shed. It's these little elements of attention to detail that we really appreciated.

The Garden Museum couldn't possibly live up to its name if it didn't have its own garden. Thankfully, there is a little oasis of green next to the cafe, a perfect place to chill out on a summer's day.

The crypt is off limits, though we'd love to look around down there. The museum itself will be working with archaeologists to investigate it in due course.

Those who managed to visit the old Garden Museum will know that it desperately needed a revamp, and the extra funding has delivered a massive improvement in facilities and exhibition space.

Everything including the garden shed is present. Image courtesy Garden Museum.

This museum is worth visiting for the architecture alone, but the items on display also live up to expectations. We love our quirky niche museums and we're happy to add the Garden Museum to that list.

The Garden Museum can be found on the South Bank, next to Lambeth Palace. Entrance is £10 for adults, plus an additional £3 for a tour of the tower, concessions available. The museum is open every day except the first Monday of the month.

Last Updated 19 June 2017