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Garden Museum re-opening

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The Garden Museum
Dan Pearson's garden design for The Garden Museum's revamp

Gardening Museum opens its doors on May 22

The Black Gardener
The Black Gardener by Harold Gilman. Picture; John Chase

After an 18-month, £7.5million pound redevelopment, The Garden Museum is reopening today, May 22. It is Britain’s only museum dedicated to the art, history, and design of gardens and is an oasis of tranquility next to Lambeth Palace.

The project, supported by the National Lottery, has enabled the museum to put its collection on display for the first time. Its home, the ancient deconsecrated church of St Mary’s-at-Lambeth, has been restored, and there are seven new galleries.

Outside is a bronze extension to frame a new garden by Dan Pearson, built without foundations due to the 20,000 bodies buried on the site, some dating back to before the Norman Conquest.

Visitors can explore the 14th Century tower which is opening to the public for the first time, as well as The Ark Gallery, a recreation of the Tradescants’ 17th century cabinet of curiosities.

The building-within-a-building design preserves the ancient body of the church while creating a new gallery for the permanent collection, reflecting all aspects of gardening, from 1600 to the modern day, from Britain’s oldest watering can to Harold Gilman’s iconic ‘Portrait of a Black Gardener’.

Tradescant’s resting place

The church is the resting place for the 17th Century plant hunters, John Tradescant (and his son of the same name). They became famous for gardening for Charles I. Their collection of curiosities, bequeathed to Tradescant’s neighbour Elias Ashmole, became the core of the Ashmolean Museum.

The building was saved from demolition in 1977 by Rosemary Nicholson, who discovered the Tradescants’ grave. She raised funds to turn the building into the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of gardening.

Key elements of the new museum include:

Archbishop's mitre
Archbishop’s mitre in the vault under The Garden Museum. Picture; Craig Dick

The Archbishops’ tomb: Discovered during the renovation were the tombs of between two and five Archbishops of Canterbury in a vault – the church for many years served the bishop’s household, but that building, apart from the tower, was demolished in 1851.

As the Victorians built a new church, the graves were emptied. There is nothing under the slab of Elias Ashmole and no trace of Anne Boleyn’s family in the aisle built for them in the 16th century.

The vault was discovered when building contractors removed a step to make an access for wheelchair users. They found a slab, which lifted to reveal steps going down and saw a glittering archbishop’s mitre.

The tomb has been sealed, with a glass viewing window placed over the steps. The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded further funding to research the vault.

The Garden Museum
A CGI impression of the new cafe, The Garden Museum

The Ark Gallery: designed as a recreation of the Tradescants’ famous Ark, one of the wonders of 17th century London, built around the loan of items on long-term loan from the Ashmolean Museum.

Unveiling Ashmole’s tomb: 2017 is the 400th anniversary of Elias Ashmole’s birth, who was buried on the site of the Garden Museum. His tombstone has been discovered and will be unveiled on the opening day.

Exhibitions: A temporary exhibition of paintings by Eileen Hogan, the museum’s Artists-not-in-Residence during the year the museum was closed, shows six large paintings, her response to 90 peoples’ nominations of their favourite green space. The paintings include Chelsea Physic Garden’s seriated beds in August and the park of Chiswick House in February.

The Tradescants’ Orchard, a second temporary exhibition, has watercolours of heritage fruit varieties by 50 botanical artists.

Exhibitions in 2018 include the flower and garden paintings of Cedric Morris and a retrospective of the landscape gardener Humphry Repton.

The Garden Wall: A striking installation in the courtyard. More than 200 people sent a picture of their favourite garden which was fired onto a tile. The end result is a mosaic, inviting the viewer to reflect on their own favourite garden.

View from the Medieval Tower, The Garden Museum
View from the Medieval Tower, The Garden Museum

The Medieval Tower: The oldest part of the church, now with a viewing platform, with an impressive view of London. Watch trustee Alan Titchmarch climb the tower and get a sense of the view, filmed just before the platform was installed. https://player.vimeo.com/video/167872565.

The Garden: A new garden by Dan Pearson as an ‘Eden’ of rare plants, the garden reflects the Tradescants’ love of unusual plants.

The Archive: The country’s first archive of garden design. Records of John Brookes, Beth Chatto, and Penelope Hobhouse will form the foundation of the archive, together with the photographic archive of Andrew Lawson.

Christopher Woodward, Garden Museum director, said: “Our aim is to keep a record of how our great garden-makers think, imagine and create – and to be able to show people, 20 or 100 years from now, what beautiful gardens they made.”

Learning studios: A new extension will include an area for schools and a second space where art and cooking can take place.

The Garden Museum, 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7LB, is open every day from 10.30am-5pm (Saturday 10.30am-4pm), visit www.gardenmuseum.org.uk for more details.

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