Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Beth Chatto Gardens

The other week I finally got round to looking at the revamped Museum of Garden History in Lambeth (now called the Garden Museum). At first it is rather disconcerting - you pay your £6, step in and then look around - where has the museum gone? It is now upstairs on a sort of landing space, with the ground floor now a big empty area that can be used for talks (and presumably commercial events?) It is some years since I last went and I don't remember the permanent collection being very large, but now it seems so small it reminded me of the kind of museum you put together as a child (like Anne Fadiman's 'Serendipity Museum of Nature'). What they have, like the display on lawns above, is nice, but it barely touches the surface of such a large subject (and that's just lawns, let alone gardens...)

There is a new space for exhibitions and I looked round their Beth Chatto retrospective. Her garden in Essex, designed to work with the limitations of an 'unpromising landscape', is very close to my mother-in-law so I've been there several times (the photo below is from a few years ago). We've bought some of her plants for our modest patch here in Stoke Newington - artemisia ludoviciana, tiarella cordyfolia and omphalodes capadocia 'Cherry Ingram', which is out at the moment.

Geoff Manaugh, who writes the superb BLDBLOG, did an article on the new Garden Museum for Dwell. You can see from his photos how empty the building looks - although as the article says, it's all done very stylishly. I must get to a talk there... the museum's curator is Christopher Woodward who wrote the excellent In Ruins, so we can expect an interesting programme which should cover landscape topics (the schedule for spring and summer isn't announced yet). They have already been hosting a series of conversations with Tim Richardson and Noël Kingsbury, authors of Vista: The Culture and Politics of Gardens, and although these are not open to the public (invitation only) some of them are available as MP3s at Gardens Illustrated.

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