Garden Museum Relaunched
New galleries and exhibition space point to a bright future.
Director CHRISTOPHER WOODWARD talks to HAZELLE JACKSON.
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
- 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 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
- 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
- [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
- 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:
- a purpose-built gallery for exhibitions, for which we can
borrow from the national collections. Audience research
showed that one clear role for the Museum within
the gardening world could be as a centre for exhibitions
about gardens and garden design.
- spaces with low light levels, so that we can display
works from our collection of 4,000 works on paper, from
Edwardian postcards to 17th-century florilegia.
- 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
- [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
- [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
- [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
- [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!