By Rowan Moore
In the former church where John Tradescant and son are buried, London’s Garden Museum has grown into a distinctive new space
John Tradescant and his son John, the 17th-century naturalists, gardeners and travellers who among other things helped to introduce pineapples, Virginia creeper and plane trees to Britain, liked the un-alike. Their baroque version of science was not the white-coated subdivision and separation of everything from everything else. In the Ark, the cabinet of curiosities that they created by their home in Lambeth, south London – and which became the basis of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – they brought together the natural, the artificial and the supernatural: carvings on cherry stones, seashells, the cradle of Henry VI, a stuffed crocodile, religious objects, talismans. This was more than whimsical mixology: it was a view of the world based on the connectedness of things.
They might then have appreciated the promiscuous fusions of the Garden Museum, which has grown up in the church and churchyard of St Mary-at-Lambeth, where they are both buried. Here the tombs of the dead mix with spaces for the living, vegetation with construction, Victorian-medieval stone gothic with the cross-laminated timber of contemporary exhibition spaces. It is layered vertically and horizontally, from the five archbishops found buried underneath to the reopened roof of the church tower, and from a noisy road through a quiet glazed cloister to the venerable boundary wall of its neighbour Lambeth Palace.