When I was in London last week I stumbled, quite by chance, on the Garden Museum. The Museum is in St Mary-at-Lambeth next to Lambeth Palace on the South bank of the Thames. I'm glad I did as it is an interesting place with a bright future.
In the grounds of the church, which had become derelict by the 1970s, is the tomb of John Tradescant (1570-1638), the first great gardener and plant hunter in British history. His magnificent and enigmatic tomb has now became the centrepiece of a 17th century knot garden planted with flowers that grew in his London garden four centuries ago. These plants, which include introductions by Tradescant such as the scarlet runner bean, red maple and tulip tree, can be viewed on the Museum's new Grower page.
Inside the church is an exhibition area showing a selection of the 10,000 objects collected since the Museum opened over 30 years ago. The collection spans 400 years of gardening, from tools to artists’ impressions, grand country house gardens to small back yards, rare and precious things alongside everyday objects. It's a real insight into how ideas, technologies and passions in British gardening have changed over the years.
In the selection I saw, for example, was Gertrude Jekyll's desk, an early commercial seed packet stand, a cabinet with gentleman landowners 'slash sticks' (walking sticks with a hidden blade for slashing back undergrowth on paths) and some interesting early pictures of suburban back gardens.
The Garden Museum is an active and growing organisation. It holds numerous talks, temporary exhibitions and events and has been awarded a £3.2m Lottery grant, which it is in the process of match funding to develop Phase 2 of the Museum. This will involve converting the church to show more of the collection, which will be good - it would have been nice to see more.
Their vegetarian cafe also does a tasty lunch, as I discovered, which you can eat out by the knot garden - a rare quiet spot for central London.
Only one thing spoiled my visit. Outside the front of the church was a spectacular Echium pininana, with a 3m tower of flowers. Despite all my best efforts, the Echium in my Somerset garden hasn't even begun to flower.
Sigh! It's always a few degrees warmer in London, and a few degrees can make all that difference.