April Breeds Lilacs out of Dead Land

Unseasonable, infeasible heat has supercharged the garden these past two weeks. Straggling daffodils have been blasted dry by a preshock of summer, and this year alliums, Iris and peonies are competing with tulips in April’s pageant of pulchritude.

Over the last week our white Persian lilac, Syringa persica ‘Alba’ has come into flower. The stems on this shrubby lilac are dainty and the flower heads so voluminous that early morning sees the plant sunken under the weight of trapped dew. This is almost the plant that is generating the most questions from our visitors this week…


 …. Almost but not quite. The tuberous geranium Geranium tuberosum pips it with ratio of about four “what is that lovely geranium?”s to three “what’s that white thing that looks like a lilac?”s. I think it must be the be the purple marbling on the pale blue flowers, and the way it grows coolly and calmly in the shocking green of the parterre’s new growth.

Banana update

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Best Face Forward

Stubbornly looking forward to spring.

Its coming...

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Planting in a Winter Wonderland

Londoners like to panic at the first glimpse of snow, to start bulk buying survival DVDs and punching each other at train stations – it’s a cherished seasonal tradition. But not it seems at the garden museum. We had our first coating yesterday, it gives me great pleasure to report that all staff and visitors remained dignified, calm and serene throughout.

All staff apart from me that is, I’m panicking and punching people as hard as I can. Our bulb order only arrived on November the 25th and we have nearly 1000 still to put in. With the meteorologists predicting ‘hard frosts and blizzards!’ for the next fortnight, it’s hard to see when they are ever going to get planted. I’m having this horrible recurring nightmare -I’m kneeling blue fingered next to a crate of unplanted tulips as the sun sets Christmas Eve. Harrowing.

Which is why I so grateful to the three volunteers who braved the 12 hour slush flurry yesterday and came in to help me plant. The sleet unfroze the ground, thank goodness, but it also made it very wet. So I decided we would leave the knot garden and surrounding areas, whose borders are delicate and prone to compaction, and focus on the more robust Wild Area and the free draining porch borders. We managed to plant 200 alliums and 185 tulips of various varieties and no-one’s fingers fell off and no-one died. A huge success.

On Sunday, when the weather was still cold and crisp, I took a tour of the garden searching for winter colour and seasonal cheer:


Hips with Wall

Rosehips in the knot garden. All plants used in this area were cultivated in 17th century England. We use a lot of species plants, whose flowering season is a shorter than their selectively bred offspring, and we don’t have the huge portfolio of plants for autumn and winter interest that the modern gardener can choose from. As a result these little flashes of colour are loved inordinately.  

Mullein with Tomb and Wall

Great Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus, self-seeded in the dry garden. Now looking slightly ropey this plant has been flowering for longer than I have been working at the museum. I’m particularly fond of the shadows cast by the plane trees in this picture.

Grass with Fence

Calamagrostis x acutiflora.  Grass doing what it does best – catching autumn light. For those who are interested, in the background you can see Lambeth Bridge and the mighty Thames.

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An Introduction

Another horticultural year, another horticultural intern. Matt has gone on to prestigious new challenges – head gardener for a private estate in South West London, no less. Well done Matt! I’ve taken his place in Lambeth. I’m Ben, a recent horticultural graduate and semi-professional Intern. Apologies for my blogging tardiness, I’ve been raking up leaves.

This blog will hopefully become a place where curious internet users can come to gain an immersive experience of Horticultural internship at the Garden Museum. Matt posted things about the garden, I will post things about the garden, my successor will post things about the garden, my successors successor will post things about the garden, and so to infinity. An unbroken chain of blogging Interns stretching all the way to the final supernova. Hairstyles and pop stars will change, the Beatles will be forgotten and the The Gherkin will fall, but we shall remain. If you could travel through time and space, say to Lambeth in November of 2368, you would still find a Horticultural Intern (#359) and I’m almost certain you would find them raking up leaves.   

You see our garden is surrounded by majestic mature London Plane trees (Plantinus x hispanica), beautiful to look at, calming to hug (I’m told), but with autumn and gravity in collusion, a pain in the arse. The more I rake up the more they fall down, Sisyphus aint got nothing on me. The London Plane also has particularly tough leathery leaves which take years to break down into leaf mould. To collect and reuse them would take more space than we can spare, so a proportion of them are being taken away as rubbish, something I find particularly painful.

But, with help from the heroic garden volunteers the situation is coming under control. Light shines through the tunnel! Leaves are raked and not replaced for hours. Hours will slowly become days, days become weeks and before we realise it we will no longer be sweepers – we will be gardeners! Until then here’s some pictures I made earlier.

The knot garden, pre leaf fall

Note the London Planes lurking ominoisuly leaf bound in the background.

Knot garden with fallen leaves

The Asian Banana (Musa basjoo) flowering by the wall of Lambeth Palace


Thanks for reading, I write another blog on broadly horticultural subjects which can be found here www.bensgarden.wordpress.com

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Garden Wildlife

While in the knot garden these last couple of months I have been following closely the development of a small nest of blackbirds.

Having chosen the somewhat hazardous location of a surprisingly low-down position inside the boundary yew hedging, my heart leaps each time a visitor hovers around the adjacent Tradescant tomb.. I think I’ve become a little too attached!

With both parents on the constant protective offensive (in between plying the nest of 4 youngsters with worms and grubs from our over-filled compost bins) it’s not hard to miss all the activity. This is of course now heightened particularly due to the approaching maturity of our new birds. I sneaked a couple of photos of the parents and of the first to leave the comforts of the homestead. I can’t help but think however that they are not even close to being fully formed enough to move out…


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Resurrecting the chicken-battered lawn

Since having our endearing ‘Good Life’ chickens tearing up the lawn (like they do!) in the knot garden the patch of grass has looked shabby. I had been meaning to resurrect it for some time and now have finally, having arduously scarified, aerated, re-sown it and left it to heal, given it a mow. 

Must say, I’m pleased! I think people can get very attached to their lawns, and the care there-of, no matter how large or small. So in the same smug vain inherent in such adoring lawn enthusiasts..here’s a before and after!

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Preparing the North Yard

This last week has been a hectic one. In preparation for our ‘Lot in Pots’ container auction, I have been cleaning out the area behind the museum known to us as the North Yard. The auction will consist of pots planted up by prolific gardens-people of the horticultural industry, including Tom Stuart-Smith, Andy Sturgeon, Joe Swift and Mary Keen.

This effort also allows me to start making the area (once the pots have gone out) into a decent space for plant propagation. I have knocked up two compost bins and am putting in place the various element required for smooth propagation.

Here are some photos of the beginnings, together with my own first attempts at my pot!

Its not finished yet.

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