Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Garden Museum, London

The short advice about the Garden Museum in London is: skip it! I’m sorry to say this, since I was obviously eager enough to make the trek out there and pay my 6 GBP. What gardener wouldn’t be excited at the prospect of a museum paying homage to all things gardening right in London, one of the world’s great gardening capitals! I was imagining long halls of old landscape plans, Gertrude Jekyll drawings, the history of Britain’s great gardens, journals of accomplished plant hunters, old garden tools and techniques… I could go on and on - there’s so much potential!
Instead, the museum is a huge let-down. In fact, it’s amazing just how bad it is. It starts out promising enough – it is housed in the beautiful former Mary-at-Lambeth parish church. On the ground floor, there is the all important gift shop – probably the best stocked part of the museum, which is not saying much since it’s nothing special. At the time of our visit, there was also a Beth Chatto retrospective on the ground floor. This was small but nicely arranged and interesting, especially because I’m a huge fan. Pictures of her and her garden, some journals, and a slide show with beautiful shots, although slide changes were terribly slow.
Next, we proceeded to the main part of the museum upstairs. Unfortunately, I’m afraid calling it a museum is excessively generous. It is a single room, and a small one at that (the entire museum is in the picture above). And the prized collection stored in this single room? Garden tools strikingly similar to what you will find in almost any gardener’s shed. Really, I’m not kidding. That shovel from your grandfather? Yes, you can pay 6 GBP and see it again at the London garden museum. And not much else. There are about half a dozen display cases, with tools, a seed machine and some mildly interesting memorabilia. That is it! Once you’ve taken your 10-15 minutes to look through this, and are ready to go on, you will be surprised to discover that there is nothing to go on to. In fact, we kept going around and around the room to look for the secret passage leading to the main part of the museum. Alas, as also confirmed by the front desk volunteer, this is all you get. The “sneak peak” at the collection offered on their website is pretty much the whole collection.
Oh, I shouldn’t forget the small 17th century knot garden in the courtyard of the museum. This is quite pretty with a nice feeling of enclosure, but very small. The grave of the Tradescants family, gardeners to Charles I and famous plant hunters who have lent their name to several popular garden plants is also here. Too bad there is no other information about them in the museum. Overall, a huge disappointment and definitely not worth the time or the money. It’s really a shame!

Museum Summary
What: Museum of Garden History
Where: London, England [Map]
When: Open year-round, check opening times on website.

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