Portrait of a Black Gardener, Harold Gilman, c.1905
Hammersmith Allotments by Francis Dodd
Plan of the garden at Greenlaw, c.1740
Collections and Exhibition
"An extraordinary collection"
In 1977 the Museum opened with a single exhibit: John Evelyn’s copy of the catalogue to the Tradescant Ark, signed with the date of his visit in 1656.
5,000 acquisitions and gifts later, the collection has become the country’s single best record of how gardens have changed in the centuries since. Artefacts range from the oldest watering can in Britain to Gertrude Jekyll’s desk, to gnomes carved by German prisoners of war and the country’s best collection of private showing families in their own gardens, from the dawn of photography to the present day. We hold a unique record of the life and work of the gardener, from the score of men in the water-lily house at Chatsworth to Vita Sackville-West in boots and pearls, as well as many paintings and drawings, such as our Portrait of a Balck Gardener by Harold Gilman. Historic artefacts as delicate as the ‘Vegetable Lamb of Tartary’, an eighteenth century curiosity, which is was believed was a half animal, half vegetable cretaure, a lamb which grew on a stalk eating all the vegetation around it before dying.
A specific grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has funded the purchase of over 70 works of art illustrating views of British gardens, from 18th-century drawings and watercolours to Howard Sooley’s iconic images of Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness: and accumulating record of gardens through artists’ eyes.
At present, fewer than 200 objects in the collection are on public display. The project will more than double the size of the current galleries, and allow visitors to discover some of the ways in which the garden has become so important in our daily lives. The new exhibition will showcase the changes gardens have made on our surroundings, looking at the development of parks, allotments and the domestic suburban garden. A gallery dedicated to works of art will reveal the relationship between the artist and the garden using works by well know painters and illustrators such as John Nash and Edward Bawden. We will present a chronology of garden design which will look at how the appearance and fashions in some of our great gardens has changed over the centuries. Our collection of garden tools, and material from nurseries and garden centres will tell the story of how technological innovations are improving gardening (or not), and of the story of the discovery, introduction and cultivation of new plants from across the globe in Britain.
The exhibition will include state of the art interpretation, including the opportunity for visitors to pick from our collection of films and recordings of great gardens and their makers, and explore thousands of old photographs. It will also offer the oppportunity for our visitors to use our collections as a source of inspiration with hands-on activites for all.