Several friends had suggested The Garden Museum wasn't worth seeing. "There's not a lot to it, other than some antique tools and old photos, a garden bookshop, a parterre garden and a cute cafe," said one. Well, that sounded just perfect to me.
So, against this advice, I headed to the Garden Museum on my last day in London last week. The sun was glistening off the Thames, the Eye was attracting summer queues and Big Ben was chiming happily: it certainly seemed as if South Bank was the place to be.
"The Garden Museum?" queried the driver, when I hailed a cab. "That's my favourite place in London!" "Really?" "Oh yeah," he nodded enthusiastically. "It's a fantastic secret. I like to go there when I'm having a bad day. There's a lovely cafe where you can eat your lunch in a garden and it feels like a million miles away."
Now London cabbies are some of the savviest in the city so I raised my hopes. Just after Lambeth Palace Gardens he let me out at a charming little chapel on the riverside. "Just in there," he said nodding cheerily. "You're gonna have a lovely time." And then drove away, leaving me in a part of London I'd never been in all the years I've lived in this city.
Inside the chapel, the museum seemed to consist of a bookstore full of garden books, a little cafe, an exhibition of garden embroidery and a desk with three cheery ladies.
"Just up the stairs here," replied Cheery Lady Number One. "And don't forget to look at our parterre garden too; it's just come into bloom."
Well the Garden Museum was small, but if you love gardens and the history of gardens, it's absolutely fascinating. There are antique garden tools (daisy grubbers and other unusual things), photos of gardeners through the decades, and even an authentic old Yates seed dispenser from a department store display.
Afterwards, the garden bookshop ws a wonderful place to browse, with vintage and new titles on gardening, and gifts galore. I picked up a copy of the limited edition catalogue of last winter's hugely successful exhibition 'Fashions and Gardens', which was curated by writer and museum trustee Nicola Shulman, wife of the 5th Marquess of Normanby and sister of British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman (who naturally featured it in a Vogue issue). It's a thoughtfully curated bookshop, full of unusual titles and lovely ideas for gifts.
But perhaps the best part of the museum was the rear garden; an idyllic walled haven of flowers and leaves weaved into a pretty green box parterre. You can buy lunch in the cafe and eat it here, or – like the cabbie and I did – munch on your own picnic fare in the shade.
And then there's the view when you eventually emerge from the sanctuary of the museum into the streets of London again ...
5 Lambeth Palace Rd, London