The Garden Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Garden History, is based in the parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, adjacent to Lambeth Palace on the South Bank of the River Thames. The church was deconsecrated in 1972 and was scheduled to be demolished but, in 1976, John and Rosemary Nicholson traced the tomb of the two 17th century royal gardeners and plant hunters, John Tradescant and his son, to the churchyard and were inspired to create the Museum of Garden History. It was the first museum in the world to be dedicated to the history of gardening.
The elder John Tradescant (c.1570-1638) and his son John (1608-1662) were gardeners, collectors of curiosities and importers of exotic plants. Working for a series of eminent patrons (among them Charles1) they supervised some of the great gardens of the period and were responsible for introducing many new plants into Britain. Their own botanic garden at South Lambeth, close to the site of the Museum of Garden History became the centre of horticultural interest in Britain and their collection of rarities known as The Ark was the first public museum in the country.
In the range of their interests and their expertise, the Tradescants were unique and justly famous among their contemporaries. The elder Tradescant went on collecting trips to Europe, while the younger voyaged as far as what is now known as the State of Virginia.
The Ark, established in 1629 was a ‘collection of curiosities’ unequalled in Britain. It contained an incredible variety of objects and specimens: artefacts, books, weapons, coins, items of costume, shells and other curiosities. The collection was eventually acquired by Elias Ashmole and it became part of the founding collection of The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
In addition, Tradescant the Elder produced a small manual of painted fruits, ‘The Tradescant Orchard’, which included illustrations of: a single strawberry, gooseberry, apple, hazel nut, date, quince and several varieties of cherries, plums, damsons, apricots, nectarines, peaches, pears and grapes. There are 66 surviving pictures, including some of insects and birds. They are arranged, species by species, roughly by date of ripening during the gardener’s year. Its purpose is obscure but it may well have served as a catalogue of varieties of fruiting plants and trees that his patrons consulted (see note below). We know that Tradescant also imported mulberries, redcurrants and a pomegranate into England.
The Garden Museum
This is currently undergoing its second phase of renovation having recently secured funding from the Heritage Lottery to complete the conversion of the ancient structure of the Lambeth Museum into a modern museum. This phase will double the space for display of the permanent collection and create additional space for its schools and community outreach work. It will also allow for the development of a bigger café and modern visitor services.
An Exhibition of Botanical Paintings has been planned as part of the opening of the new Museum facilities in 2017 (probably March through August). The exhibition will comprise:
Contemporary botanical paintings of ‘heritage’ fruits of the sort which might have been depicted in ‘The Tradescant’s Orchard’ alongside the original manuscript as the centerpiece of the exhibition. It is the Tradescant fruit paintings that have provided inspiration for the subjects of the 50 or so paintings juried for the exhibition.
Historical material both relating directly to the Tradescants (on loan from the Ashmolean Museum) and also the wider historical context of horticulture at the time.
Loans from museum and country house collections, which evoke the horticultural, scientific and artistic atmosphere of the time.
The Bodleian Library has recently produced a facsimile of the book mentioned above, which contains facsimiles of all the original illustrations.
The Tradescant’s Orchard; The Mystery of a Seventeenth Century Painted Fruit by Barry Juniper and Hanneke Grootenboer.
A ‘heritage’ fruit is a ‘fruit that has stood the test of time’. It is impossible to identify the descendants of the Tradescant fruits with absolute precision, but the aim is to show ‘heritage’ species that are easily identifiable in national collections.
Having been invited to submit a painting for the exhibition I was fortunate to have unlimited access to the beautiful walled garden of Dr and Mrs Adrian Darby in Kemerton, where countless ‘heritage’ apple, cherry and damson trees grow.
I chose to paint Malus domestica ‘Lady Suedely’ because of the proximity of Suedely Castle to Kemerton and the link between the glorious crimson of the apple’s skin which was apparently reminiscent of a gown which Lady Suedely wore at Court.
Beth, November 2016