Garden Museum review
I'm not really into gardening. I'm more into concrete, so my big interest in this museum is the church it's housed inside. The original one was Edward the Confessor-era, and sat alongside the gatehouse of Lambeth Palace. When the Archbishop of Canterbury started using it as his local it became one of the most prestigious in town, and ended up with 26,000 burials in the walls and vaults and graveyard outside.
The Victorians decided to redesign the insides in 1834, and Hitler remodelled the windows a hundred years later, but what we see today is still largely medieval... which is why it's such a shame what happened next. Its congregation dwindled down to nothing by the 1970s so they stripped out the altar and scheduled it for demolition. That's when a fan of John Tradescant stepped in to save it, and turned it into the Museum of Garden History.
The new owner obviously wasn't interested in the architecture of the church because they did their best to wreck it. As soon as you step inside the front door your heart will sink because they've given the stonework an acidic whitewash and stripped all the centuries from it. The old floor is gone, covered up with nothing, and the best of the walls are blocked off by bland wooden stairwells. The beautiful coloured windows are half-hidden behind a load of plain grey display cabinets.
What they've given us in return is a cabinet full of shovels, buckets, trowels, rakes, spades and an empty shed. They've got some old gnomes and a rusty tub of slug pellets, a couple of watering cans and a child-sized lawn mower. After that comes a cabinet full of horticultural trophies and some old gardening magazines signed by Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock.
The most interesting section is where they provide some biographies of historical gardeners. They've got a little gallery of their garden plans and watercolours of their work as well.
The highlight for me always used to be the ornamental garden and graveyard out the back because that's the final resting place of William Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty. After Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando in the movie) forced them into a rowing boat he miraculously got them back to England whilst the mutineers picked each other off on Pitcairn Island. So if anyone deserves a peaceful rest it's him, but sadly they've decided to wreck all of that as well.
It's totally unrecognisable as a church graveyard now -- most of the old garden is gone and they've surrounded all four sides with copper-coloured walls and sliding glass doors. The sunny little cafe that had patio tables laid out beside the leafy trees and back gable of the church now looks no different to a million other restaurants -- you could be sitting inside a branch of Marks & Spencers.
In summary, then... it's all pictures, paintings and rusty old equipment. If you're looking for some actual plants and gardening tips then you'd be better off going to the Chelsea Physic Garden, Wisley or Kew.
I’ve been here before…
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