While I was in Cornwall (told you I’d be going on about it a bit) I popped into the National Gardening Museum at Trevarno, near Falmouth (which is itself a lovely garden – the bluebell walk was in full flower and a welcome respite from the gale-force winds knocking us off our feet everywhere else).
I’ve only ever been to one gardening museum before – the one everyone’s been to, the Museum of Garden History in London. That was a few years back now, and all I can really remember of it was the utterly charming knot garden nestled in behind it – which made it more of a garden visit than a museum visit really.
The National Gardening Museum is less charming, in that it’s housed in a rather post-industrial barn-cum-warehouse, so it’s best not to look up too often. But what it contains is utterly absorbing and quite surprisingly fascinating.
Garden museums seem to be largely about tools and sundries, not plants, unfortunately, but you do realise there’s a story behind each one. I happened to be walking around behind a group of old boys, who kept remembering having used half the things on display. There was a quite absurd number of watering cans, some sinister-looking spray guns, and I’ll never view gazebos in quite the same way again after seeing the Victorian version.
But most fascinating of all, to me, was the display of seed packets. Again, it’s something you take so much for granted – yet did you know Suttons used to supply their seeds in what they called “close cases” – glass test tubes to you and me, bunged up with a stopper and presented in a sort of large cigar case, beautifully and with much ceremony. Even the labels had a touch of mystery and gave a real feeling that here was a little pot of gold dust.
It makes you feel the romance has gone out of gardening a little these days – I can’t imagine them making a display out of your average Suttons seed packet circa 2008. I could be mistaken, though – no doubt we’ll all get our seeds virtually in times to come, teleported magically into our gardens with not a seed packet in sight. Now there’s a thought…