Monday, November 28, 2011

Garden Notables- John Tradescant

Who are these people and why are they in my garden?

John Tradescant the elder (1570-1638)

John Tradescant was a naturalist, gardener, and collector who travelled the world collecting seeds and bulbs.  He introduced many plants into English gardens that, to this day, remain part of almost every garden designer's repertoire and, in a strange twist of fate, he has reached out from the grave to continue to shape the direction of English gardening.

John Tradescant the elder along with son John (1608-1662) served as head gardeners to Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury as well as to Charles I and Charles II.  The Tradescant family were parishioners at St. Mary-at-Lambeth which for 900 years stood on the bank of the Thames river in London just opposite the Houses of Parliament.  Both John the elder and his son John were buried in the churchyard at St. Mary's.

John Tradescant the younger
By the early 1970's St. Mary's had fallen into serious disrepair and was scheduled to be demolished.  But because of the Tradescant burial site, an appeal was mounted through a newly formed Tradescant Trust.  The appeal was successful, the church was deconsecrated, and within its walls The Museum of Garden History was opened, later to be renamed The Garden Museum.  Because of her family's history with the Tradescants, the current Lady Salisbury (more to come on Lady Salisbury in an upcoming post) was asked to serve as the museum's president; she also designed the seventeenth-century knot garden which was officially opened by the Queen Mother in 1983 and now serves as the heart of the museum.

Lady Salisbury's knot garden and the Tradescant tomb

In 2006 Christopher Woodward was appointed director of the museum and a new development campaign was launched.  Changes were instituted that included updated housing for permanent collections, additional space for exhibitions, lectures and seminars, as well as the addition of a shop and cafe.  The new spaces were inaugurated in 2008 with the opening of an exhibition on the pioneering design work of Beth Chatto, followed by one on Christopher Lloyd.  

The Garden Museum at St. Mary's has become a center for the exchange of ideas within the world of gardening.  Designers like Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith have exhibited here and gardening luminaries like Arabella Lennox-Boyd, Dan Pearson, and Fernando Caruncho lecture here.  All within earshot of the Tradescants, the two seventeenth-century plantsmen whose spirits continue to shape the world of gardening.

For more info on The Garden Museum, click here.


  1. Love the garden history on the Tradescants. Knowing how they loved American plants makes me proud.

  2. Hi Thomas! Thanks for the nice comment! [For readers of this blog who don't know, Thomas writes a great blog on the influence of English gardens on American gardening. You can find his blog at or link to it from the sidebar here.]


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