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.
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!