The Garden Museum makes for an extremely wholesome day out.
Winter still runs the show – for now – but we’re already looking forward to the green shoots and sunny afternoons of spring. Should you need a little pick-me-up in the meantime, though, might we recommend London’s lovely Garden Museum? Nestled inside an old church, the museum explores the art, design, and history of British gardens, and virtually guarantees spring vibes whenever you visit.
There’s nowhere else in the UK that provides this level of garden inspo, especially since it’s the only dedicated garden museum in the country. Covering all aspects of the garden – from vast lands shaped by royal gardeners, to the more humble backyard offerings – you’ll find a love of all things that grow here.
Plenty to discover, then, but first let’s address the obvious hiccup of a permanent garden museum in a rainy country: the fact that most of it needs to be inside. The Garden Museum have solved this problem rather neatly, by taking the abandoned church of St Mary at Lambeth and turning it into their sanctuary of horticulture. It wasn’t chosen by coincidence, either; the church is the burial place of John Tradescant, widely accepted to be the first great British gardener, and was reopened as the Garden Museum in 1977 after the tireless work of green-fingered Rosemary and John Nicholson.
The church is now filled with displays of classic gardens, plant-themed artworks, and – naturally – plants, along with a prefabricated timber structures which winds around the walls and up into the church. Amongst the collection are objects including a 17th-century watering pot, various gardening tools, and, charmingly, some rather left-field artefacts that only tangentially relate to gardening:
The National Garden Museum is very good. But this has to be one of the weirdest museum display items I've ever seen: pic.twitter.com/IS0o8NQCDF
— WILL JÆNNINGS-13 (@willjennings80) January 12, 2020
Ok, so having one’s own church for a museum is quite cool, but the Garden Museum aren’t resting on their laurels (they’re actually more likely to be growing them, to be honest). A glass-panelled corridor takes you out to the Garden Museum’s inner garden, a leafy, jungle-esque courtyard space. Tradescant’s tomb forms the centrepiece of the garden, which is planted with a huge range of plants, from Japanese shrubs to New Zealand perennials, via Taiwanese climbers and Mexican dahlias.
It’s a space which invites quiet reflection – indeed, every Friday afternoon from 3-5pm, the museum turns this garden into a ‘Silent Space’, in which phones and conversation are forbidden, and you’re encouraged to just sit and take in nature.
However, arguably the most impressive spot here is up in the rafters, for if you climb a long, narrow staircase up the medieval tower, you’ll be rewarded with some winning views across the Thames to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye further up the river. It’s a chance to get an entirely new view of the capital, one which has flown somewhat under the radar of the Instagram crowd.
Clearly, there are loads of reasons to love the Garden Museum, whether you’re a plant fanatic or not. That’s not even the last of them; events such as talks, special exhibitions (on subjects ranging from ladybirds to London’s Royal Parks), and a warmly-received Houseplant Festival bolster the excellent work the museum does. And, despite the fact the church has been deconsecrated, it’s still a popular spot for weddings and other special occasions. Truly, this is one place which never goes out of season…
If you’re around in March, the Garden Museum is hosting a gorgeous, botanical art fair. There’ll be 25 exhibitors showing off works in various mediums, including photography, oil paintings and collage. All inspired by plants, flowers and gardens, the pieces will be available to purchase for really affordable prices. Across the weekend, visitors will even be able to create their own nature-inspired work, using techniques such as flower-pressing, botanical sketching and abstract painting. Get your tickets to the ‘Super Nature’ exhibition here.
Also published on Medium.