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Horniman soil at the Tate

I was contacted in the summer by the Project Manager of this year’s Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern - who lives in Forest Hill.  He explained the basic premise of obtaining soil samples across London and seeing what grows from them.  It all sounded very interesting and the Horniman Gardens team were really keen on helping out.


We have over 16 acres of gardens, perfect for soil harvesting

Empty Lot features a grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and over 23 tonnes of soil collected from parks and gardens all across London from Peckham Rye to Regent’s Park, and of course the Horniman Gardens. 

By the end of the summer we had supplied over two tonnes of the Horniman’s finest soil.  Spread across the site it was easy to supply that quantity without leaving gaping holes in our shrub borders. In September the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas visited the Horniman Gardens to see first-hand where the soil came from.  It was great to meet him and get more of an idea of what he was planning.


Our celebrity soil being used by seedlings in our nursery

Last night (12.10.15.) members of the Horniman Gardens team were invited to the opening at the Tate and were blown away by the installation, which fills almost all of the Hall.  The first seedlings could already be seen germinating and it will be fascinating to see what grows over the next few months - growing conditions have been artificially created using grow lights and hand watering the soil.


Sacks of Horniman soil packed up for the exhibition

Despite a few aching backs in the team from bagging up over two tonnes of soil it has been great to contribute to such an iconic art installation at Tate Modern.


For more information on the exhibition click here

Food Glorious Food: From Garden to Kitchen

If you read our previous Food Glorious Food blog you'll see how much we grow in our gardens and the variety of produce Damien has been harvesting. Berries, potatoes, marrows and herbs, we get a lot from our Food Garden.

Some of our homemade cakes using our own fruit

With so much tasty food being grown in our gardens, we wouldn't want it to go to waste so our chefs in the cafe cook up some fantastic food that you can enjoy.

The Horniman cafe

Jason has made a warming moussaka made with aubergine grown in our food garden. We have a beautiful Black Beauty variety growing here at the Horniman that tastes as good as it looks.

This savoury course (below) is a sausage and caramelised red onion filling inside a crispy pastry lattice, seasoned with Horniman-grown herbs(easily one of my favourites). On the side is tomato salad with a range of varieties we grow here, including red, green and yellow varieties.

Is it lunchtime yet?

And it wouldn't be the Horniman without a good gateaux. When I popped into the cafe Val was finishing this beautiful fig and marrow cake that looks delicious.

Fig and marrow cake

I've tried making cakes using courgette before and it ended up (to quote Mary Berry, the Doyenne of Dainties) with a soggy bottom. Val's cake was perfectly formed, but she wouldn't let me in on her secret recipe, yet.

The menu in our cafe is constantly changing, so be sure to pop in and see what takes your fancy.

A Hungarian stew with home-grown cabbage.

If you're a fan of tea and cake, and all things foodie join us on Saturday 26th September for our event Food Glorious Food, part of Urban Food Fortnight. This event marks the 2nd anniversary of our Farmers' Market and the launch of Tea Trail London, a vibrant new webapp mapping tea's history and tea customs across London.

Food Glorious Food: Grown in our Gardens

For those unfamiliar with the Food Garden we use this gently sloping, south-facing area  to grow a range of food plants from peas and pomegranates to potatoes and pearl millet.

Apart from a few permanent residents, the garden’s quarter-acre is filled each year with plants raised from seed. Planning for this begins now, when we take stock of the growing season, and this carries on through the winter as we draw up next year’s layouts, calculate plant numbers and finalise seed orders.

Examples of layout and seed order

So what have been the successes this year, and where does it all go?

Our cane fruit has produced by the kilo, keeping Valerie in the Horniman cafe busy making delicious berry mousse. We grow an early blackberry (‘Kotata’) which ripens in mid-July, followed by raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries and Japanese wineberries through August and into September. I’ll be out picking the last of them once I’ve written this.

Our Loganberries; basket of mixed berries from earlier in the summer

Everything in our ‘Leafy and Fruiting Vegetables’ section has done well too. We’ve had lettuce, chard, some lovely red cabbages, tomatoes and aubergines, courgettes and cucumbers and some truly massive marrows. Later on there’ll be kale and Brussels sprouts too. Yum, I say. You heard me right.

Me with volunteers Keith and Irene; aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ in the garden; view of the Leafy/Fruiting section

Hungry plants like tomatoes and marrows get a boost with a liquid feed made from the comfrey plants in our Medicinal Border.

I let the leaves break down in a bag and collect the rich black liquid that drains out; it’s high in potassium which helps plants develop and ripen their fruits. The liquid needs diluting before use and stinks outrageously but it’s sustainable and doesn’t cost a penny.

Comfrey in the medicinal border; comfrey feed in bucket

Over in the Bulbs, Roots and Tubers section there’s lots still to come. As the nights lengthen there’ll be potatoes and sweet potatoes in September, swedes and carrots in October, and celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips from November onwards.

I’ve already harvested beetroot, turnips, onions, shallots and new potatoes over the summer. Chef Jason put our beets to good use in the cafe, making borscht, and a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad.

View of bulbs, roots and tubers section; onions drying for storage; first turnips of the year back in June

Every week during the summer I look at what’s been harvested and send the Horniman Cafe a list. Once they’ve confirmed what they want to use it gets bagged, crated and delivered early in the morning.

3 different crated deliveries ready to go 

When you visit the Food Garden please keep in mind two simple rules:

  • Keep to the paths
  • Don’t pick anything

That’s it. Other than that it’s yours to explore and hopefully be insired by.

Feel free to come and say hello if you see me working down there. Questions are always welcome, including ‘what’s the best way to cook a marrow?’ Maybe it’s the gallery full of taxidermy I walk through every morning before I get out to the garden, but my answer is ‘stuffed.’




Horniman and Charles Townsend

As part of Open House London this year we are looking at some fellow institutions: The Bishop's Gate Institute and The Whitechapel Gallery as we all share a common 'ancestor', the famous architect Charles Townsend.

The original Horniman Museum Buildings designed by Charles Townsend 

Townsend was active throughout the 19th and early 20th century with a unique style combining Art Nouveau and the Gothic revival styles which were very popular at the time. Although Townsend was more familar with smaller scale builds, he completed three larger comissions: The Bishopsgate Institute (1892-94), The Whitechapel Gallery (1895-99) and finally our very own Horniman Museum completed in 1911.

The Bishopsgate Institute also by Townsend, credit: www.londonarchitectureguide.com

The Horniman Museum building was especially striking for its time, The Studio magazine in 1902 commented that it featured: "a new series of frank and fearless thought expressed and co-ordinated in stone".

Although it was a cutting edge design, Townsend still featured some traiditonal motifs, such as a classical(ish) mural by Robert Bell and the Tree of Life, a popular feature of Townsend's work

The Tree of Life motif 

The Tree of Life and similar swirling floral motifs were very popular at the time with artists such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The tree may link to Christian stories, such as the Garden of Eden or the garden of Gethsemane, but being an archaeologist I'm more a fan of the tree linking to 'Yggdrasil' a tree from Viking mythology.

This tree represents the cycle of life and death, as it provides the fruit the Norse gods eat to remain immortal, but its destruction marks the end of the world. This symbol is very old and can, debatably, be dated back to even before Nordic culture.

Although we don't have any trees that old, we have some beautiful oak trees which are hundreds of years old, as well as the trees on our building. 

Our focus on Townsend's masterpieces is part of Open House London's event this Sunday 20th September, please feel to come along explore our buildings, gardens and collections. Why not see if you can find these two impressive trees in the gardens? 

Africarnival: last chance to Experience African Summer.

This Sunday we are hosting our exhilarating Africarnival which marks the end of our African Summer.

Performers at our African Dance event earlier in the summer

Our season so far has featured artists, musicians, dancers and objects from across Africa and its diaspora. On Sunday, our Africarnival will be a colourful celebration with circus performers, workshops, dancing and an exuberant carnival parade.

The carnival parade features Mandinga Arts who have been working with a number of community partners and artists to create extraordinary costumes, masks and puppets inspired by the African collections, here at the Horniman.

Yabba Funk, who will be performing at Africarnival

Led by British and Colombian artists Charles Beauchamp and Julieta Rubio, Mandinga Arts creates extraordinary outdoor performance costumes, floats and processions drawing on European, Latin American and African traditions.

The parade on Sunday has come about through collaborations with six community groups. Mandinga Arts selected six artists who worked alongside the company’s Artistic Directors to collaboratively realise and create a large-scale articulated puppet drawing inspiration from the Horniman Museum.

Some of the communtiy-made masks

We are sad to see the end of African Summer, but excited for Africarnival so come along on Sunday 30 August 12pm – 6pm.

Glorious Gardens on the Small Screen

Have you seen our glorious Gardens on TV recently? If you've been watching closely, you'll have seen them appear on several TV shows.

Firstly, we were a romantic location to introduce a couple on BBC One's Don't Tell The Bride. Sadly, we weren't the venue for their actual wedding - although we do love a wedding here!

Later, we were featured on The Autistic Gardener on Channel 4. Our Gardens were part of the visual, aural and sensory inspiration for the family involved in the show's garden makeover.

A few days later, we were on Channel 4 again - this time in the final episode of drama Humans. Our Bandstand was the location for a dramatic meeting between the humans and the Synths.

And finally, just last night, we were seen in More4's Selling Homes with Amanda Lamb. Our Bandstand Terrace was the perfect place for a chat and coffee between Amanda and the show's house buyer.


Filming here is a great way to show more people our wonderful Museum and Gardens, and proceeds from filming greatly support the Horniman's extensive learning programme and maintenance of the Museum and Gardens.

Creating the Anatomy of a Flower

Hello its Apprentice Gardener Ian again, it’s been a while but I have been hard at work creating a carpet bed with a lovely flower bed of the anatomy of a flower.


In case you haven't seen it yet (Where have you been??) it is a carpet bed with a flower display in the pattern of the anatomy of a flower. Its 3 metres in diameter with 7 different varieties of plants featuring: Alerbabthera's, sedums, sempervivums, etc.

Myself and one of the other gardeners Kevin created the bed for it but the plants were cultivated and designed by a company called Instaplants. They were the ones that grew the plants to the correct size and height and arranged them. If you wish to know more about how the design was done I recommend you visit their site http://www.instaplant.co.uk/

The creation of the bed was not as easy as it looks and it took a lot of planning and team work to create. The idea of a carpet bed that it is meant to lie at an angle so the image can be seen by standing in front rather then over.

The bed took a solid week and a half of hard work to create and I am quite proud of it. We started by cutting out a perfect 3 metre circle then digging out around the circle for the posts to go in.

After that we trenched out around it to get a great depth for the posts. Two days was spent cutting 62 posts to get a angle as they came down. The next phase was to put the poles in the ground. Progress started slowly but once we got the first ones in place it was plain sailing.


Once all of the posts were in they were cemented down, the middle was lined with geo-tech and filled with organic matter then top soil, the edges were given lovely white shingles and Tah-Dah the bed was made.


The flower display came in trays and it was just a matter of getting them in the right place like a puzzle. We put them all out and it was finished.

I have just given a brief summary. It was a lot harder then it sounds, trust me.

We ask that (just like you do with the rest of the garden) when you visit to treat it with respect as we put our heart and soul into making the bed and we are proud of it and don’t want it messed up. I hope you have enjoyed this blog and learnt something and if you do visit you’ll love the carpet bed as much as me and the gardens team do. 

The Horniman horses

We were recently visited by Livingstone and Finsbury, four legged members of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch. The horses (and others) donated 7 tonnes of manure to the Horniman Museum and Gardens that we have used on our Plantastic Gardens.

Inspector Katherine O'Brien commented that although "Police horses might seem unlikely gardeners" they were very pleased to see manure, that would otherwise go to waste, being used.

The horses helped us with our Planting for Pollinators garden which was planted in April. This bed contains species that will be very attractive to bees and butterflies when in bloom.

Wes Shaw, Head of Horticulture here at the Horniman, pointed out that "horse manure is an excellent way to provide great food for plants". This pop-up garden will look fantastic when in bloom, with Californinan Poppies, Fairy Toadflax and Cornflowers creating a beautiful display overlooking the London skyline.


Our Plantastic Gardens will be blooming throughout the summer and you can also visit our Plantastic exhibition within the museum.

Pictures taken by Sophia Spring.

Donation of manure made possible by Veolia Environmental Services (UK) plc.

Gardens Festival

This Sunday we will be holding our third, yes third, annual Gardens Festival as part of the Chelsea Fringe show.

We will be hosting music, art and gardening in abundance, let’s just hope the weather remains sunny.

The London Vegetable Orchestra

Music will be provided by the London Vegetable Orchestra and their array of pumpkindrums, cucum-trumpets and carrot-corders, as well as Marcelo Andrade performing music from his new album African Tree.

Marcelo has performed with many artists from around the world and performed at numerous Jazz festivals internationally. His album African Tree, encapsulates his international work by including 70 different musicians form 5 continents.

Marcelo Andrade

Gardens and gardening are the main themes of the day, so members of our learning team will be making miniature gardens complete with diddy deckchairs, birds and benches . We’ll also make seedbombs, a speedy way to distribute seeds in hard to reach sites and make prints using sun-paper and flowers.

The events start from 12 and run until 4, the galleries and exhibitions (including Plantastic) will be open for you to explore as well.

Plantastic Gardens

Preparations are coming along nicely for our Plantastic garden displays.


Sunseekers will be a mass planting of sunflowers in the bed opposite London Rd. We are growing around 1400 plants, 700 Helianthus ‘Prado Red’, and 700 Helianthus ‘Prado Yellow’.

Seeds were sown in April by our fantastic volunteers Irene and Ewa, who did a great job sowing them all in individual pots. One week later the seeds began to germinate with approx 90% success rate.

They are growing nicely and will be planted when they are about 10-12 inches in height and able to withstand attack from the Horniman Squirrel Brigade who take great delight in pulling up all our newly planted plants!

If we get a good summer I expect to see them flowering through June, July and August.


Sunflowers in the nursery

 Our specially designed carpet bedding display Anatomy of a Flower will depict the cross section of a dissected flower giving victors a chance to learn about basic flower structure. Kevin is currently building the raised circular bed for the display in the small garden opposite the cafe outside seating area; the plants will be delivered and put together like a giant jigsaw in the last week of May.


Plants for Pollinators will see the transformation of the large empty bed on the bandstand terrace into a glorious riot of colour with flowers that will attract lots of pollinating insects.

The hardy annual seed mix was sown by the team in April, and they are just starting to germinate a week later.


Andrea and Ian divide seed mix up so they can apply it evenly over the bed


Andrea and Ewa sowing the seed by hand

All three displays can be seen throughout the summer months, we hope you enjoy them.

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