Interpreting Gardens

Recently I’ve been working with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on plans for the restoration of their Temperate House. As part of the research for this project I spent a day last week at two really special gardens in London museums; the Geffrye Museum of the Home and the Horniman Museum. The gardens at both these museums had been suggested to us as among examples of good interpretation.

Geffrye garden

Geffrye Museum Garden

The Geffrye is a museum which consists of a number of period rooms with related period gardens and a herb garden. The permanent interpretation of these gardens is quite standard, with a map and occasional boards to complement the plant labels.

herb garden map

Geffrye Herb Garden map


Panel at Geffrye

However, where the Geffrye really excels is in the community and youth projects they do within their museum and gardens. Examples in the gardens include an Asian women’s group private garden, a ‘Plant Explorers’ trail, soap making and baking workshops with herbs and temporary graphic signs on stakes which can be put out for family fun days and school holidays.

The Horniman gardens were our next stop on this wonderfully sunny day and with such good weather we were able to see just how well-used these free gardens are by the local community.

Hornimal medicine garden

Horniman medicinal garden

The museum has always had a small botanic garden, however recently they were re-designed to emphasise the links between plants in the garden and the cultural objects inside the museum.

Medicinal garden intro panel

Here’s an example in the food garden where there is information about the plants (grains) enhanced by links to objects inside the museum from other cultures.

Grains panel

Here in the ‘materials and fibres’ garden, the links are made very explicit. For example, this panel about silk linked to objects in the museum’s musical instrument gallery inside.

Materials and fibres garden

Silk information panel

The museum gardens are a peaceful oasis in south-east London and well-used by families and groups of all ages. Many garden visitors may not have been inside the museum but there’s no doubt in my mind that these panels make going into the museum a far more interesting prospect.

To finish I had to include two images of the Sound Garden – this isn’t actually a garden of plants so should not have been the focus of our visit but I had to stop and listen to the instruments being played by groups of children and parents. It is a fantastic outdoor interactive space and I am really impressed at how it is so well linked to the inside collections.

Horniman Sound Garden

Sound Garden intro panel

If you get the chance, I would highly recommend a visit to both these wonderful museums and gardens which are now linked directly by a very easy overground rail journey of less than half an hour.