Wednesday, November 4, 2015

London's Garden Museum fascinates with Tradescants and treasures

As we are packing to head “across the pond”, I wanted to repost this article I wrote about the Garden Museum in 2015.

As Dirt Diaries readers may recall, I visited just before the museum closed for a £7.5 million renovation. I will be covering the reopening, along with the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and other fun destinations.

I’ll also revisit the “window boxes of London” and see what clever things the designers have come up for 2017! And I’ll see how the Queen’s bees are doing at Buckingham Palace.

Enjoy your tour of the “old” museum (which I found fascinating) and join me for all the dirt on UK gardening goings-on when I return. Cheers!

The museum is housed in the former St. Mary-at-Lambeth church
Just before we left on our trip to England, I wrote about some of the gardens and sights we planned to visit there.

In London Calling (London gardens that is), I mentioned the Garden Museum and how much I was looking forward to going there. 

We stopped in on a dreary Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by the news the museum was about to close for an extensive redevelopment program  and won’t be reopened until 2017. Even though activity was winding down, we found the exhibits and grounds intriguing.

A selection of garden gnomes from the final exhibit before renovations
How many garden designs did Jekyll plot at this desk?

The main exhibit was Gnome & Away: Secrets of the Collection, which featured a grouping of antique tools and objects of interest to gardeners. Other assorted goodies were on display elsewhere in the museum including Gertrude Jekyll’s desk and an American pink flamingo.

An early miniature garden

Outside we wandered through the re-creation of a seventeenth century knot garden planted in honor of intrepid plant hunter John Tradescant and his son. Both men traveled the globe to find new plants (and parts of exotic animals) to bring back to England. John the elder was also gardener to Charles I.

Even though it was late September, the garden was still lovely. I can just imagine what it looks like in spring and summer when topiaries are at their best, and the old roses and herbaceous plants are in bloom.

The Knot Garden from above (Photo courtesy London Garden Trust)

The knot garden itself is planted with species either introduced by the Tradescants, or grown in their Lambeth garden, which has long since disappeared. Most plants in the modern garden are labeled with their country of origin and year they were introduced to the UK.

One of the fascinating things on display is a copy of “the catalogue to the John Tradescants’ Ark, cabinet of curiosities and botanical garden.” The Ark was considered to be one of the wonders of 17th century London. Father and son opened the garden and “cabinet” to citizens (at a cost of six pence to get in) and in effect, created London’s first public museum. 

The Tradescant catalog lists an Alegator (sic), Rattle Snakes and a Dragon

Astonishing rarities were reportedly displayed including the “hand of a mermaid, a pelican, a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ and all kinds of foreign plants.”

The Tradescant family tomb is adjacent to the knot garden and is one of the most important churchyard monuments in London. Panels carved into the sides of the monument depict objects from the Tradescant collection. 

An alligator and a nautilus shell are among carvings on the tomb

If you love garden history, the information about the Tradescant catalog, tomb and plants in the knot garden is well worth the price of admission.

But I was sorry to learn I had missed some truly extraordinary earlier exhibits.  One on War and Gardens included a scrapbook of pressed flowers from London bombsites collected by a teenager just after World War II. There was also an array of Wills Rose Cigarette Cards from World War I, and stories of gardens behind the lines.
I loved these rose cigarette cards so much I bought one on eBay

I am delving into these stories with the gracious help of the Garden Museum, and will be writing about it all very soon.

I look forward to finding out more about these wartime gardens. 

And I truly look forward to returning to this treasure of a museum in 2017.

Welcome Americans!!


The Principal Undergardener said...

I have never figured out the fascination with gnomes, but I would be fascinated to see a museum interpretation of same. Bravo, Lynn! Keep 'em coming! And, when does the CSM piece on Buckingham Palace gardens appear?

Beth at PlantPostings said...

That knot garden is amazing! I've been thinking that type of project would be fun (of course, mine wouldn't be that fancy). London is wonderful, isn't it?! I really like the format of your blog. So glad I found you through Facebook!

Lynn Hunt said...

Neal, there actually weren't too many gnomes in the exhibit which was a good thing because I wonder about them, too. But as you may recall, they have been banned from Chelsea except for one special year! Thank you so much for the kind words! I love reading The Principal Undergardener as well.

Lynn Hunt said...

PlantPostings, I'm so glad you found the blog and enjoyed it. I do love London and all the fabulous gardens there. I will be writing about some of the other ones I visited soon. I'd love to know if you decide try the knot garden. It is quite spectacular.

Les said...

I am glad the flamingo could make an appearance.

Lynn Hunt said...

Les, they were raising money to help with the massive renovations and I suggested they appeal to Americans visiting there to help provide the best home possible for the flamingo!

Sunil Patel said...

Hello Lynn, that's a lovely example of a knot garden. The ones I see are all green, boring and lacking in in-fill, but the one there looks as though it could be stunning when in full flower if it looks this good now.

Lizanne Lloyd said...

I really enjoyed reading your description of the lovely Garden Museum. I wrote about it on my blog from the point of view of the graves buried there which include my ancestors

Lynn Hunt said...

Somerville66, I have just read your blog posting and found it absolutely fascinating. We must meet when the Garden Museum reopens! Thank you so much for writing to me with your story.

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