Tag Archives: John Tradescant

The Museum of Garden History

At a busy roundabout on London’s Albert Embankment, just over the river from the Houses of Parliament is the world’s first Museum of Garden History.

The Museum of Garden History
The Museum of Garden History

Housed in the lovely old St Mary-at-Lambeth church and set in a peaceful, almost rustic garden with beautiful patio garden furniture, it is staffed by tweedy, be-brogued gentle-folk with the unmistakable stamp of the gardening enthusiast. The kinds who would be able to talk for hours about seasonality, and would know the benefits of concrete gravel boards from A to Z off by heart. In other words, the perfect people for such an establishment.The Museum of Garden History is quaint, other-worldly and a fascinating insight into the British passion for their gardens whether they be grand rambling parks or modest allotments.

An erstwhile baptismal alcove, just inside the church entrance is now a tiny oral history “auditorium”. It booms an whispers its stories in the corner like a tardis. Wall displays trace the history and evolution of gardens and look at the work of great garden designers like Gertrude Jekyll, at gardeners like Capability Brown and at plant collectors like the John Tradescants. One of the central displays outlines the rise and demise of one of England’s great seed merchants as well as examples of the merchandise of the house. Others house historic collections of gardening artefacts – tools, watering cans, gloves and boots along with gnomes, other curious garden ornaments and of course the garden gazebo. There are interesting post-war advertising posters which feature mother (with the teapot) the children (at the table) and father (pushing the lawn-mower) in the idyllic shaded garden of their grand, two-storey, unmistakably English house.

The Museum Café sells fabulously colourful vegetarian foods – salads, pastas, chunky and grainy combos, fat muffins and moist cakes, thick with fruit, as well coffee, tea, juices and smoothies.

In the rear courtyard of the church is the tomb of the John Tradescants, the famous plant hunters and gardeners to Charles I. The 17th century knot garden, which is the courtyard’s centrepiece, is planted with specimens discovered and grown by the Tradescants. Also in the courtyard is the grave of Captain William Bligh, carved with words of high praise for his distinguished service in the British Navy (No mention anywhere of the ignominious Bounty affair)

The Museum shop is crammed with charming little gardening knick-knacks, beautiful books, cards, garden produce bottled or tinned in tiny containers, toys and of course tools and clothes for the garden!

Lambeth Palace Gardens

Bounded by high stone walls, its gates firmly locked for most of the year against the outside world, the Lambeth Palace garden is one of London’s best kept and loveliest secrets.

Lambeth Palace Garden, London
Lambeth Palace Garden, London

The first garden was established, in what was then the countryside surrounding London, by the monks of Rochester who grew fruit, herbs and vegetables for their table. At the end of the 12th century, it became the garden of Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The old monastery chapel, built in 1234 and the crypt chapel built in 1215 still stand today, along with some of the monks’ original trees and vines. The Palace has had many alterations and additions over the years. The oldest remaining sections are Cranmer’s Tower which dates back to 1550 and the Great Hall which was built in 1664. Architect Edward Blore’s main palace building, which houses the state rooms and the Archbishop’s private accommodation, was the last addition to the complex. It was completed in 1830.

The garden has been meticulously maintained and developed over the centuries. It is planted with a huge range and variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. It is still highly productive.

The orchard, which contains apples, pears, quinces and plums, stands near the site of the first vegetable garden. The “White Marseilles” fig trees were planted in 1556 by Cardinal Archbishop Pole. The tulip trees were introduced by John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I. The rose terrace was built in about 1930 by Archbishop Cosmo Lang and includes the famous pink Savoy Hotel bloom. The native hedge is planted with blackthorn, hawthorn, honeysuckle, holly and hazel. Secluded walks border the garden, like the Hornbeam Allee which forms a promenade to a circle of native hedge with seats at the end, or the Woodland Walk, which is lined with fragrant  flowers.

There are vast, sunny lawns, ponds and fountains. Spreading mulberry and beech trees are underplanted with carpets of spring bulbs. Fountains patter gently on ponds. Bees from the hives introduced in 2004 by the London Beekeeper’s Association potter unhurriedly among the flowers.

The Lambeth Palace Garden is now one of the oldest and largest private gardens in London.  Today it forms part of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ministry and is used by many different organizations and charities. An historic site, it is a most important part of the English heritage.

Tours of the Palace take place twice weekly, on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and 2pm and on Fridays at 11am from February until November.

The garden is open to the public only three times a year for;

  • National Gardens Scheme on a Saturday afternoon in late May
  • London Open garden Squares on the first Saturday in June
  • North Lambeth Parish Fete on the last Saturday afternoon in June.