Garden Museum Relaunched

New galleries and exhibition space point to a bright future.

The front entrance to the Garden Museum The front entrance to the museum

The Garden Museum opened its doors to the public on November 18th. The new museum, housed in the former church of St Mary-at- Lambeth next to Lambeth Palace, is a dramatic reconstruction of the former Museum of Garden History. The MGH closed on July 31st to allow the creation of better spaces for visitors to enjoy the building and collection. The new Garden Museum will let the visitor explore and celebrate British gardening and gardens through its permanent collection, exhibitions, events, symposia and its garden.

The new interior of the Museum has been designed by Dow Jones Architects. Included are a gallery for temporary exhibitions - which will open with the first ever retrospective of Beth Chatto - and a new space for education.

In a recent interview, Christopher Woodward, Director of the Garden Museum explained the reasons for the new museum to London Landscapes editor Hazelle Jackson:

[HMJ] Why the name change?
[CW] The future lies in making the museum a space where garden designers and restorers can share their experience and people can gather to talk not just about the past but about the ideas and values of the present and future.
This vision encompasses relaunching the museum as the Garden Museum, broadening the scope of its activities to include discussions about garden design and garden history, both traditional and modern, and establishing new gallery space to make the museum Britain's leading venue for exhibitions about gardens and garden design.
The question is no longer whether to rescue historic gardens and designed landscapes but how to do so. This new context is a challenge for the museum. Firstly it has to rediscover a national role. Secondly there is still a battle to be fought - for the gardens of recent times. Thirdly we have to acquire an audience beyond garden history.
[HMJ] What work has been done?
St Mary at Lambeth St Mary-at-Lambeth church seen from the museum's garden
[CW] The museum shut for three months, during which time the new galleries were installed inside this historic church, begun in 1384. It's a beautiful, bright space but it didn't have spaces in which we can display works on paper, work with schools - or mount exhibitions.
Last year we held a competition, which was won by Dow Jones, who have just been short-listed as RIBA Architect of the Year. Their design was prefabricated in Switzerland, and delivered in three huge trucks. It's freestanding, and doesn't touch the old stone walls. It's a ground-breaking use of new building technology.
In effect, we have fitted a modern museum inside an historic church, and it's amazing that we were able to do that in three months. At the same time we're building Britain's first venue dedicated to a programme of exhibitions about gardens and garden design.
[HMJ] What was the thinking behind installing new galleries?
[CW] The architectural challenge has been that the beauties of the building (light, open space, streams of dust in the light) are the antithesis of the demands of a modern museum, which might be caricatured as a series of white, clean boxes for exhibitions, collections and events.
So we held an architectural competition in which we asked six of the best young practices in London to show how we could fit a modern museum into a medieval church for very little money... and very quickly. The two principal gains are:
Finally, the redesign will also create a new learning space and unclutter the nave for events such as LPGT lectures. Indeed, that's important: we hope that the reconstruction opens up the old church, which had become crowded with partitions and second-hand display cases.
[HMJ] How was the work funded?
[CW] It was funded by two private donations (names to be revealed next year!) and donations from The Weston Foundation, The Rayne Foundation and The Friends of the Museum.
[HMJ] I believe the library has been disposed of. Was this a hard decision to make?
It's sad, yes, as the library has been assembled over 30 years. However, very few people came owing, above all, to the proximity of the Lindley Library.
We're keeping any books that are important, unusual, or have been donated by friends or authors. The remainder we'll sell, after the Lindley has had first pick. What money we do raise will be put towards new display cases for the precious books. But it's not a question of making money, rather the fact that we don't have space to store unused books.
[HMJ] Do you still have the tools and ephemera collections? Are there plans for these? Is the ephemera collection still being digitised?
[CW] No change there. The tools will be important in the new displays. And highlights from the ephemera collection will go on display for the first time. We'd love to digitise the ephemera collection when we have the money.
[HMJ] What is latest update on your HLF-funded Collecting Cultures project?
[CW] We've made our first acquisitions: a 1920s view of allotments in Hammersmith and a 'Digging for Victory' view on Clapham Common... and, as we buy more London views, I hope you'll give us, perhaps, more slots? Each has an interesting story behind it, and I enjoy how London Landscapes brings to light unknown corners of London.
[HMJ] What are future plans for exhibitions in the gallery?
[CW] To be finalised but it's to be a balance of a retrospective of a contemporary garden each year, a garden history show, a show on a theme or idea and botanical art. So, four per year.
[HMJ] What other plans are there for changes at the Museum?
[CW] Phew... enough changes for now? We want to see how people react and the challenge is to keep up to date with what's on people's minds.
I really hope that LPGT members like the new green chairs... seriously, we've been very happy at the readiness of bodies such as LPGT to share the space and support each other in the interests of gardens.
So I hope this relaunch makes the Garden Museum all the more useful to the gardens community.
[HMJ] Thank you!
The Museum of Garden History

For further information on the Garden Museum, please go to