Garden Museum
Garden Museum
This fascinating museum is housed in an old church, now restored. In the churchyard stand the tombs of the Tradescants, father and son, plant hunters and royal gardeners. Nearby is the tomb of Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. There is a permanent exhibit of gardening history and antique tools.


In 1977 the redundant church of St Mary's in Lambeth was scheduled for demolition. In the churchyard was the grave of William Bligh, captain of the Bounty, but more significantly for British culture, the tomb of John Tradescant (1570-1638).

Tradescant was an extraordinary man; probably the most influential gardener in British history, if not the world. He popularised plant hunting, and was responsible for bringing seeds from across the world to Britain and introducing numerous exotic and unusual plants to the UK. His work was carried on by his son, John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), who is also buried here.

Both Tradescants worked as gardeners to King Charles I, and lived in Lambeth. From their British base they travelled around the world, from the Mediterranean to Russia and the New World. They also wanted the British public to be able to see and enjoy their work, so they opened the doors of their botanic gardens in Lambeth to visitors, and invited the public to view their 'cabinet of curiosities'; perhaps the first public museum in Britain.

The ornate Tradescant tomb was commissioned by Hester, the widow of John Tradescant the Younger. On the top of the tomb is a verse attributed to John Aubrey which rather appropriately reads, 'Angels shall with their trumpets awaken men … and change this Garden for a paradise'. The Tradescant tomb was one of the very first prominent memorials expressly designed to be outside a church, and helped popularize the tradition of ornate and imposing British churchyard tombs.

St Mary's church was saved from demolition so that it could serve as the centrepiece for a museum on the history of gardening and the life of John Tradescant. Today Tradescant's ornate tomb stands in a lovely knot garden, planted with the very same species of plants that grew in his own London garden over 4 centuries ago.

The garden was created in 1980 to a design by The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, the museum President. The garden is created in a 17th century spirit, using plants known to the Tradescants, including varities introduced into Britain by them. Among the latter are the tulip tree, red maple, and scarlet runner beans.

The museum will be closed from 30 October 2015 for restoration and will reopen in early 2017.