Winter in the Garden at the Garden Museum

The garden at the Garden Museum

The garden at the Garden Museum

When I recently visited the Garden Museum to see Rachel Warne’s exhibition, I had a further reason for going there; I wanted to see how much colour there was in the garden.

My garden is just beginning to wake up. The witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’) is finally flowering. This cultivar isn’t scented but for my purpose that doesn’t matter; its role is to be seen from the kitchen window. It lives in a large pot and has grown naturally (with only a little help) into a very pretty fan. I bought it nine years ago and everyone said ‘Your garden is far too small; you can’t possibly have a witch hazel.’ It proves that one shouldn’t listen to other people too much; it is still a manageable size and fulfils its task of announcing the approach of the end of winter perfectly. Dotted around the garden are little irises, crocuses, puschkinia and the beginnings of the daffs, but not much else. I was interested to see what 17th century gardens would have had.

The day started crisp and clear, with a promising blue sky but, as I cycled along the Embankment, the sky got greyer and greyer and by the time I arrived it looked as if it might rain, not a very auspicious start for a wander round the garden looking for colour. Everything always looks better after a visit to the café and, sure enough, a Gnocchi alla Romana and butternut squash cake later, the sun had come out again.

What actually struck me most about the garden were the textures, rather than the colours. There was colour; amongst other things there were vivid purple Iris germanica, flowering completely out of season, head-hanging hellebores, blue anemones and a single daffodil flower, which was clearly going to wait a little longer to open fully. What I noticed more though, were the patterns and shapes of the leaves and plants. Even the dry, brown leaves providing protection for the banana plants were interesting to look at.

There is great attention to detail in this garden and it is worth taking time to look at each area carefully. There are tiny pink squills hiding beneath the trellis, blue and pink pulmonaria, and periwinkles sheltering against the wall of the church. There are pots of Narcissus thalia and irises and the tips of the shoots just appearing above the gravel hold promise of colour to come. More sinister looking are the shoots of the dragon arum or voodoo lily (Dracunculus vulgaris).

I read that this garden is the poor cousin to the Chelsea Physic Garden; I am not so sure. The café and shop alone make a visit here in winter more pleasurable as both are closed at the Chelsea garden until April. The Chelsea garden has a wider selection of plants, and much more space, but I rather like the restrictions here. I have long fancied making a garden using only plants known to the Romans who settled in Britain, but have always baulked at the limitations. Looking at the garden at the Garden Museum a 17th century garden would be a much more realistic proposition. Jane.

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