The Garden museum – Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury women outdoors

Originally posted: 240615

I´m in the Garden Museum in London, it´s the British Flower week and I have just seen the works of five floral artists that the Garden museum has invited to create big flower installations inside the museum.

There is currently another exhibition going on here at the same time. An exhibition about the Bloomsbury group and their gardens.

The Bloomsbury group

The Bloomsbury group was a group of friends who were active in the beginning of the 20th century. Among them we find famous English artists and writers, art critics and economists. Many of them lived in the area of Bloomsbury in London, hence the name Bloomsbury group.

In the picture Lady Ottoline Morell, Maria Nys, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell

There was a vast network surrounding the group, but according to Wikipedia, the core of the Bloomsbury group were economist John Maynard Keys, painter Vanessa Bell, writer Wirginia Woolf, painter and art critic Roger Fry, art critic Clive Bell, writer E.M Forster, painter Duncan Grant, journalist Desmond MacCarthy, biographer Lytton Strachey and writer Leonard Woolf.


Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury women outdoors

The exhibition is built around works inspired by four specific gardens. Gardens belonging to women of or around the Bloomsbury group.

Virginia Woolf and Monk´s house

Monk´s house
Virginia Woolf, the famous writer, known for books and essays such as Mrs Dalloway and A Room of Ones Own, lived in East Sussex with her husband Leonard Woolf. Their house was called Monk´s house and Leonard Woolf created a garden around their property. The garden is full of plants and colorful flowers and features both an Italian garden and a vegetable garden.
Since the passing away of the Woolfs, the house has opened it´s doors for the public and has become a popular destination for both book- and garden lovers.

Vanessa Bell and Charleston

Vanessa Bell, was a painter and a designer, and also the sister of Virginia Woolf. In the year 1916 she moved together with her lover, painter Duncan Grant, into Charleston, their Sussex home. Together they painted murals and furniture and transformed the whole house into a work of art.
The garden, surrounding their property, was also a mutual effort. Both Bell and Grant loved gardening and together they transformed the boring plot into a lush garden.

The Charleston house has also been opened up for the public

Lady Ottoline Morrell and Garcington Manor

Garcington Manor
Lady Ottoline rand her husband Philip moved into the Garcington Manor estate near Oxford, in the year 1915.
And right from the beginning roomers started spreading about the scandalous living that was going on at Garcington Manor. Allegedly both the owners were known for frivolous affairs and different lovers lived on the premise at different times.
Lady Ottoline was a true lover of beauty and created a formal garden with colorful flowers inspired by the Villa Capponi in Italy and her husband Philip dug out a fishpond in the garden.
Garsington was later described by a frequent visitor as “a house that combined the unearthly beauty of an opera set with an ease that seemed to belong neither to time nor space.”

The garden has since been remodeled and the premises is privately owned.

Vita Sackville – West and Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst Castle
Vita Sackville- West was a poet and a writer and together with her husband Sir Harold Nicolson the couple moved in to the house in Sissinghurst, Kent in the year of 1930. Together they cultivated a green garden known as the Sissinghurst Castle garden which til this day contains an internationally respected collection of old garden roses. Sir Harold created the architectural structure with strong classic lines which created a nice contrast to Vita Sackville-Wests experimental planting schemes.

Sissinghurst Castle garden is open to the public.

The exhibition at the Garden museum

The light is dimly lit and the small exhibition room is half filled with people. Here the ceiling is low compared to the airy feeling of the other exhibition in this old church. The walls are painted in in earthy colors of terracotta, sage greens, and light grayish browns. On the walls, paintings in old dated frames and pushed up against the walls, glass displays containing what seem to be photographies and books.


The paintings are mostly oils, as is typical of the time when they were painted. (Acrylic color, which is a kind of plastic compound, hadn´t even been invented yet.) There are also some embroideries and a bronze sculpture among the works.
The motifs are of the houses and gardens, with some still lives among them, and there is also a big portrait of Vita Sackville – West, painted by William Strang, that hangs on one of the walls.

london_thegardenmuseum_13_Vita Sackville- West
The portrait of Vita Sackvill-West painted by William Strang and Vita Sackwill-Wests hand as a bronze statue

Most of the paintings do nothing for me. They look like the kind of paintings you see in thrift shops and most of them lack that “it” that I´m looking for in a painting. There is a couple of paintings here that I like though. One of them being Vanessa Bells “View into a garden” from 1926 and Duncan Grants “Garden path in spring” from 1944.

These two painting have managed to capture some of the light that makes gardens so magic. But the lighting of the room is really dimming the colors down and making all the paintings look very bland.

Vanessa Bell “View into a garden” and Duncan Grant “Garden path in spring”

The same paintings photographed in a different light. Photographs by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery and Tate.

In the glass displays I enjoy the old books by Virginia Woolf and the flaboyant picture of Lady Ottoline posing for a photographer of British Vogue. Her pose, both inviting and challenging is not something I usually associate with pictures from this time.

I find the exhibition a bit confusing. Nothing in this exhibition lifts the colorful personalities of the gardens owners and creators. And the lighting and the colored walls don´t do these works justice. The design of the exhibition space makes the works disappear. Why have they chosen to display them like this?

If the main focus of the exhibition is the gardens, wouldn´t it be nice to see some more of the garden plans or about the plants that each gardener has chosen for their garden? If the focus is on art inspired by the gardens, wouldn´t there be a better selection of them and would they not benefit from being displayed differently?


Although I like both art and flowers, and really like the idea of an exhibition about gardens as inspirations to works of art. Neither of the current exhibitions in the Garden Museum are very exciting.
But the venue is very cute, there is a café where you can have some tea and look at the small garden outside, the bookshop is nice and on my way out, the receptionist behind the counter wishes me a fantastic day.

The Garden museum has a cute bookshop where the also sell paper flowers. If you want you can check out MY paperflowers here

So even though the exhibitions really weren´t that good I still leave the place happy and with a dream of having my own garden some day.

xoxo/Salla V
Originally posted: 240615


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