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Museum Gardens

Exterior of the Geffrye Museum in Autumn

The Geffrye's exterior and front gardens photographed by David Clarke and Marcus Leith

The development of the museum's gardens in recent years has been largely inspired by the history of this area, renowned in the past for its horticultural expertise and as home to a range of nurserymen and market gardeners.

Developing the gardens has also provided an opportunity to explore the links between domestic interiors and gardens.

The changes in style and taste affecting the decorative arts have equally influenced the design of gardens, and plants have always been a major source of inspiration for the forms and patterns of furniture, textiles and ornaments. In the daily routines of domestic life, herbs have been not only used in the preparation of food and drink, but have also been essential for health and hygiene.

The Front Gardens

The front gardens, which saved the Geffrye almshouses from possible demolition, now provide a much-needed green space in the inner city.

According to the almshouse records, it appears that the original layout of the front garden was formal, with large areas of grass on either side of the central path leading to the chapel. Pleached lime trees bordered Kingsland Road and the central path for over 100 years.

In the 19th century, these were replaced by London plane trees, many of which still survive and now form a prominent feature of the gardens. The lawns were divided with lateral paths flanked by herbaceous borders.

When the almshouses were sold to the London County Council, in 1911, the lateral paths and beds were removed to create an open recreational garden, complete with bandstand, for the benefit of the local population. Plans to restore the paths and some of the beds to their original appearance are underway.

The Herb Garden

Geffrye Museum herb garden

Kate Malone's bronze fountain in the Geffrye's herb garden photographed by Sunniva Harte

The creation of the Geffrye's award-winning herb garden, which opened in June 1992, presented a unique opportunity to add a new dimension to the museum's collections.

By transforming a derelict site adjacent to the museum, the Geffrye has not only added an 'outdoor room' to its series of period rooms, but has also provided a haven of beauty and botanical interest in the East End, an area once noted for its horticultural significance.

It is laid out in a traditional, formal plan, centred on a bronze fountain commissioned from the ceramicist, Kate Malone. The planting scheme acknowledges the many domestic uses of herbs, with separate beds for household, medicinal, culinary, aromatic and dye plants.

The garden contains over 170 different herbs and includes plants traditionally associated with herb gardens, such as roses, honeysuckle and lilies.

It attracts insects, butterflies and birds, providing a valuable city-centre habitat and a useful learning resource for schoolchildren and others interested in the properties of plants and the ecology of gardens.

Period Garden Rooms

The Edwardian period garden in Spring

The Edwardian period garden photographed in Spring

The gardens behind the almshouses were laid out as a series of period garden rooms in 1998.

Over the past 400 years, town gardens have been made for pleasure, profit and utility, reflecting the tastes and preoccupations of their owners and the times in which they lived.

The Geffyre's period gardens have been created to show the changing nature of English town gardens. They form a series of garden rooms, to complement the period rooms inside the museum.

The layout of the gardens, the types of plants used and their arrangement within the beds are based on recent research into middle-class gardens in London and other major towns in England.
The gardens echo the museum's period rooms and illustrate the changing function of gardens in relation to domestic life.

The design for the knot garden, planted in santolina and wall germander, was taken from a parquetry motif on the oak livery cupboard in the Elizabethan and Jacobean room.

The early 17th Century garden comprises raised beds in a formal arrangement, with the plants separated according to type and use.

By the 18th Century, gardens were less functional and more for recreation, designed for simplicity and elegance with rolled gravel, stone paths and symmetrical beds.

The 19th Century garden features carpet bedding, a shrubbery and a greenhouse.

The 20th Century garden room in the series is inspired by the Arts and Crafts style, with herbaceous borders and a pergola for wisteria and climbing roses, centred on a circular water pool.

The Geffrye's herb and period gardens are open from 28 March to 31 October each year. For more information on visiting the Geffrye's period rooms and gardens click here, or follow this link for more information about the individual rooms and gardens.

keyhole logo for Geffrye garden