Garden Museum


Lambeth Palace Road, SE1 7LB


020-7401 8865



Opening times:

Sun-Fri 10:30–17:00, Sat 10:30-16:00

How to get there:

Tube: Lambeth North/Westminster

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Café and shop

Located in the deconsecrated church of St Mary, beside the Tudor gatehouse of Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Museum of Garden History was founded in 1977 by the late John and Rosemary Nicholson, thus narrowly rescuing the church from demolition. It was the tomb of the Tradescant family in the graveyard that gave the Nicholsons the idea to create a museum dedicated exclusively to garden history—the first of its kind in the world. John Tradescant the Elder (1570–1638) was gardener to Robert Cecil, the first Lord Salisbury, at Hatfield House, and later to Charles I and his consort Henrietta Maria at Oaklands, being sent on several plant-gathering trips to France. His son, John Tradescant the Younger (1608–62), was enrolled as a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners in 1634 and three years later made the first of three voyages to Virginia, bringing back the tulip tree, Michaelmas daisy and Virginia creeper, among other plants and shrubs. The family collection of curiosities became the basis of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum whose founder, Elias Ashmole, is also buried here. The elegant Coade Stone tomb of Admiral William Bligh (d. 1817), best known as the captain of the mutinous HMS Bounty, stands next to that of the Tradescants. Bligh was engaged on a prize-winning mission to transplant the first breadfruit trees to the West Indies from Otaheite (now Tahiti), as an alternative food source for sugar plantation slaves after American independence threatened the usual supplies. After the mutiny, he and his men were obliged to navigate 3,600 miles by sextant in an open boat for 41 days, living off raw fish, turtles and seabirds.

In 1981, the small graveyard beneath the walls of Lambeth Palace was planted with a knot garden designed by Lady Salisbury to a pattern popular in the early 17th century, the square within a circle representing heaven on earth. All the plants and shrubs, many introduced to Britain by the Tradescants, were donated by nurserymen from around the country and are carefully labelled with their botanical and common names, first recorded date, area of origin and family.

Inside the church, the themed display explores the development of gardens down the ages, and includes material on Joseph Banks (1743–1820), the first professional plant hunter. Banks accompanied Captain Cook aboard HMS Endeavour, and named Botany Bay. Artefacts illustrating the history of gardening include a Tudor watering thumbpot, late 19th-century walking-stick tools, a collection of early garden gnomes, including one perched on a swing dated 1910, antique pottery by Doulton of Lambeth, and the hand-painted jardinière of Ellen Willmott, the first woman member of the Linnaean Society. In the church porch can be seen the tomb of William Bacon of the Salt Office, London, ‘killed by thunder and lightning in his window, July 12, 1787 aged 34 years’. The north transept is given over to a vegetarian café serving wholesome hot meals throughout the day.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


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Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
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