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A rainy afternoon in London might not have been the ideal start to my garden visit, but the Garden Museum in Lambeth has enough stories of intrigue, courage or horticultural passion to easily counter any drizzly distractions.

The Garden Museum in London is located in a former church and nestles alongside the wall of Lambeth Palace. An original source of inspiration for the museum came from the lives of onetime local parishioners John Tradescant and his son – John the younger.

The Tradescants travelled the globe during the 16th and 17th centuries as ‘plant hunters’.  They returned home to fill a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, of then exotic and little known species, that was to become surrounded by spectacle, dispute and some tragedy.   It’s a story – currently told inside the Garden Museum through portraits and stained glass, and outside in the ‘Knot Garden’ – which surely has potential filmic qualities. The curious contents of the Tradescants’ finds are located in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

More recent gardening history is also brought to life in the powerful and moving story of the ‘Ruhleben gardeners’, told through one of the current temporary exhibitions. It is a demonstration of garden and community dedication and determination, in commemoration of the First World War.  The gardeners were British citizens held in Germany during the 1914-18 war; their garden was in the Ruhleben internment camp.

You might think pots, plants and herbaceous borders are what dominates a museum like this, but visit the Garden Museum in London and, far more, it can be seen how gardens shape people, communities, and history.

The Museum is planning to close from Summer 2015 for re-development and is worth a visit before the doors shut temporarily until 2016. There is also a bonus 45 minute museum tour on certain days of the month, which enlivens a visit even more.

See: Garden Museum

© Laura Claire H 2014

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