The Garden Museum is housed in the deconsecrated church of St. Mary’s-at-Lambeth, a stone’s throw from the south bank of the River Thames, and next to Lambeth Palace, seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

An initial phase of refurbishment work by Dow Jones Architects was completed in 2008, with a second, more extensive phase of work in 2017. This completed the conversion of the Victorian building into a museum and saw the addition of a major new copper-clad extension building housing a café, an orangery, meeting room and a classroom. We were appointed to design a new courtyard garden at the heart of the new cloister building, and a new woodland planting between café and street.

The cloister garden has, as its centrepiece, the tombs of John Tradescant and Captain Bligh. These provide the focus which the planting frames and encloses. Ledger stones, which trace the history of the thousand year old churchyard, are set into the ground inside and outside to connect the two spaces, whilst the bricks from the previous knot garden have been re-used in a carefully laid path which frames the central planting and provides a generous outside area for entertaining and functions. Outdoor seating is provided beneath a mulberry and an arbutus; two mature trees from the garden’s previous incarnation.

The glazed walls of the surrounding buildings offer a visual transparency both into and out of the internal courtyard garden, while also providing a sheltered microclimate within, both for plants and people. The London plane trees that run along the Lambeth Road boundary have been carefully integrated into the scheme and offer a dappled approach to the café and links to the new entrance courtyard in the churchyard designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole.

Looking through the glazed walls of the café from the pavement on Lambeth Road, the garden has been planted to feel like a collection of curiosities held within a contemporary Wardian case. This is a garden of horticultural history and excellence and the planting plays upon the idea of a 21st century Eden where each and every plant has a story to tell, contributing to a feeling of exotic bounty.

This collection of treasures has been drawn from around the world and refers to the voyages of the great plant collectors, inspired by Tradescant to travel to discover its diversity and cultures, and who were responsible for the beginnings of our modern day botanical and horticultural knowledge. It also includes more recent horticultural discoveries from contemporary plant hunters and botanists.

Although the courtyard is an intimate space, the layered planting provides richness, seasonal flux and ephemerality. The change in the seasons is expressed, with a plant that is of particular note every week of the year. A strong framework of structural, architectural and evergreen plants provide constancy, year-round verdancy and a sense of oasis.

The woodland planting alongside the road acts as both a buffer and a link; its leafiness provides an immediate connection with what lies within the cloistered enclosure, whilst creating a soft barrier between the café and the street.

Photographs: Huw Morgan

Garden Museum
Client: The Garden Museum

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