The Garden Museum is arguably the world’s foremost facility devoted to the history and design of gardens. Located in a heavily renovated church once destined for demolition, the Garden Museum contains an eclectic permanent collection and extensive English gardens, as well as an acclaimed on-site café. Visitors willing to climb the attraction’s 131-step medieval tower will be rewarded with postcard-ready sightlines across London. The attraction also organizes temporary exhibitions, runs educational workshops, and holds art classes.
History of Garden Museum
The Garden Museum owes its existence to the tireless efforts of Rosemary and John Nicholson, who founded the institution in 1977; at that time, it was known as the Museum of Garden History, the world’s first institution devoted exclusively to that particular subject. The primary reason behind their desire to establish the museum was an interest in preserving the tombs of John Tradescant and his family—Tradescant being a prominent seventeenth century naturalist and royal gardener to King Charles I.
The Garden Museum occupies a modern renovation of the deconsecrated Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth. This church is mentioned all the way back in 1086, as part of King William I’s Domesday Book; it was more or less rebuilt in both the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, before being heavily damaged by German bombing raids during World War II. Saved from demolition by the Nicholsons and the advent of the Garden Museum, it was last redeveloped in 2017.
Garden Museum Highlights
The Garden Museum possesses a treasure trove of artifacts and tools that tell the story of England’s rich gardening history. From displays of antique gardening utensils to botanical-themed paintings, photographs, and more, the permanent collection of the Garden Museum has a little bit of everything (related to gardens, that is). The Garden Museum also proudly houses the Archive of Garden Design, which contains documents pertaining to the lives and careers of some of England’s greatest twentieth-century garden designers.
The oldest portion of the Garden Museum’s historic property is a medieval tower believed to date back to 1377; it was carefully restored in the nineteenth century. Visitors today can climb its 131 steps and be rewarded at the top by breathtaking views of the Thames, Westminster, and scenic central London.
Of course, no visit to the Garden Museum is complete without making some time to explore the attraction’s fabulous gardens. The Courtyard Garden was designed by Dan Pearson as a calm space for visitors to enjoy taking in its selection of rare plants at a slow pace; it’s here visitors will be able to view the graves of the five members of the Tradescant family buried on the site. The museum’s Front Gardens are filled with flowers, lined by yew hedges, and offer up views of nearby Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
More to See and Do at the Garden Museum
There’s plenty more to see and do at the Garden Museum. Here are several other things of note to keep in mind in advance of your visit.
*In addition to the collections, gardens, and tower detailed above, the Garden Museum hosts fascinating temporary exhibitions throughout the year. The nature of these shows will vary depending on when you visit, but typically they’re devoted to detailing modern gardening practices, highlighting the work of influential gardeners, or presenting galleries of botanical artwork.
*The Garden Museum’s critically acclaimed Garden Café is a delightful place to enjoy a meal, snack, or glass of wine. With a menu that changes each and every day, the Garden Café is open daily for lunch, coffee, and tea; it also features dinner hours on Tuesdays and Fridays. Reservations are strongly recommended for lunch or dinner guests.
*The Garden Museum bookshop sells an assortment of gifts, souvenirs, exhibition catalogs, museum journals, and cookbooks.
*No matter when you plan to visit the Garden Museum, there’s guaranteed to be some sort of special event taking place, as the attraction regularly hosts all manner of cooking masterclasses, botanical drawing seminars, children’s storytelling hours, painting workshops, and a whole lot more. For a full calendar of events that’ll cover the schedule whenever your upcoming trip may be, check out the Garden Museum website.
*Cash is not accepted anywhere on the Garden Museum campus. Any and all purchases here must be made via a credit or debit card.
Why the Garden Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List
Any visitor to London with a passion for plants, gardens, and botanical artwork will definitely want to add the Garden Museum to their must-see list. Not only is this intriguing attraction’s subject material distinctive in nature, but its recent redesign has created a memorable layout wherein the remains of a Victorian church meet twenty-first-century design and a whole bunch of plants. Throw in the fact that major London attractions like Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, SEA LIFE London Aquarium, Jewel Tower, and the Florence Nightingale Museum are all within easy walking distance, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty nice day of sightseeing lined up in front of you.