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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.

Mud Kitchen Fun

The families at our first Mud Kitchen (for children aged 5 and under)  in April had fun playing at making mud pies and other tasty treats which included a birthday cake, with twigs for candles, and a mud pizza with extra grass topping.

If you’ve never been to a mud kitchen before you might not know what to expect. There are only two essential ingredients: earth and water, everything else you can improvise.  

A mud kitchen can be set up in any outdoor space, with old pots and pans or plastic containers; small tables or even old milk crates to use as mixing stations and access to some water.  Don’t worry if you don’t have an outside tap, we used a rainwater butt which we filled with water and had more than enough for over 30 families.

Having fun playing with earth and water is probably one of most people’s earliest childhood memories. That’s not always the case for children today so we thought we’d bring back some messy fun for families in the Horniman Gardens; with the added bonus for grown-ups that they didn’t have to clean up afterwards (thanks to our great volunteers).

The children had fun pretending to cook their mud pies in our makeshift oven, experimenting with measuring and mixing as well as practising their pouring skills.  The adults had an important part to play too, advising their little chefs on which decorations to use on their creations – beautiful daisies and dandelions growing in the grass - rather than our Gardeners’ prized flowers.   

Families were able to drop into the mud kitchen anytime between 11.00 am and 12.30 pm on the Friday morning.  Some stayed for a short time to make one or two ‘cakes’ before heading off to enjoy some non-pretend food at our cafe.  Others were so engrossed in creating their masterpieces,that they stayed for the whole session.  It was great to see everyone, both adults and children, having so much fun outdoors and getting closer to nature.

If you want to join in the fun, and encourage your children to explore nature and enjoy playing outdoors then come along to one of our Mud Kitchens over the next few months.  They will be running monthly from May – July, check the website for further details, but be prepared to get messy!

Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

Although it has been very cold and snowy outside, many people turned up at the annual RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch at the Horniman on January 24 to see what birdlife could be found in our Gardens.

David Darrel-Lambert, our bird expert, was on hand to take guided walks around the garden. So armed with binoculars and cameras, our visitors went twitching.

The count this year was really impressive – over 60 birds were spotted around the gardens! Amongst the more common wood pigeons, magpies and robins, we spotted, goldfinches, woodpeckers, a mistlethrush, nut hatch and even this beautiful kestrel.

As well as spotting birds, we made over 100 pine cone bird feeders to keep the Forest Hill wildlife fed though the cold winter months.

These are really easy to make and are a great nutritious snack for our feathery friends. To make one of our bird feeders, we use pine cones as the base – a great natural treasure!


We used lard which is nice and fatty which helps keep birds warm and energised. Peanut butter is a good alternative.

Cover the pine cones in the lard or peanut butter and then dip in bird seed.  The bird seed provides the nutrients.  You can get lots of different bird seed mixes depending on the birds you have in your garden, or you can just use a mixed one suitable for most birds.

Tie a piece of string to the end of the pine cone and you’re ready to hang it up!

We hope you managed to take part in the Big Garden bird Watch too, and if not, then come along next year to take part in 2016!

Full bird count list below:

  • Wood Pigeon 14
  • Magpie 21
  • Song Thrush 1
  • Blue Tit 3
  • Great Tit 6
  • Robin 3
  • Blackbird 1
  • Dunnock 3
  • Chaffinch 1
  • Herring Gull 6
  • Carrion Crow 6
  • Parakeet 5
  • Feral Pigeon 6
  • Coal Tit 1
  • Long-tailed Tit 1
  • Goldfinch -1
  • Wren 1
  • Woodpecker 1
  • Kestrel 1
  • Mistlethrush 1
  • Field Fare 2
  • Nuthatch 2
  • Gold Crest 1



Preparing for Winter in the Gardens

Gardens Apprentice Ian has spent the last few months working to help get the Horniman's 16.5 acres of Gardens ready for the winter months.

Hello, my name is Ian and I am a new gardens apprentice. I started in October and am experiencing the hard way just what it's like to be a Gardener in the winter.

The different times of the year bring new jobs for gardens. In October we dug out the dahlias in the dahlia bed because the dahlia is a tender plant which cannot take the cold of the winter and needs protecting.

As you can see in the picture here the dahlia bed is empty now.

What we have done to protect our tender plants is to dig them out carefully as not to damage their root tubers, cut down the plant's stem and store them in our poly tunnel upside down for a week (upside down to dry them out so they don’t root). After a few weeks we lined the crates with newspaper then spaced out the dahlias and covered them with soil. This picture of a cultivar of the Dahlia plant “Show and Tell” should give a idea as to how it should look.

We did that for all the Dahlias and then moved them to our greenhouse. It reaches heights of up to 15⁰c on even the coldest days in there so it was a good place to store them.

When it comes to the winter this isn’t the only way we protect our plants. If you go to our display garden you may see some plants wrapped in a clear bag. Those are our banana plants: these plants are more sensitive to the rain and damp rather than the temperature. I haven't included a picture of our wrapped up banana plants because you can come and see it for yourselves, and we also blogged about the process of proecting them last year!

I hope you have enjoyed this and learnt something in my first blog. I plan to write more of these so keep an eye on the blog for more gardens news!

Ian's apprenticeship is funded by The Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

Hot Stuff at the Horniman

Wes, our Head of Horticulture, shows us how the Gardens team got on when they tried growing some of the hottest chillies around.

Growing chillies is cool. It’s easy, and loads of fun, especially if they’re the proper hot ones!

Earlier in the year the Gardens team at the Horniman ordered a selection of seeds to grow our own plants, including the notorious ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ and the evil ‘Carolina Reaper’, currently the hottest varieties in the world. Gardens Keeper Alex and I are particularly fond of a hot chilli so it was all for a bit of fun rather than producing a bespoke display for the Gardens.

Seeds were sown in March in a heated greenhouse, germination rates were good and they were then potted on into 3.5in pots, they grew well over the summer: chilli plants love heat, lots of sun and regular feeding, and as a result we grew some magnificent plants that produced a lot of fruit.

It was about this time we learnt about Spitalfields City Farm’s Annual Festival of Heat from Amy in our Learning team. Amy arranged for us to have a stall on the day and display some of our plants including the world’s hottest, the Carolina Reaper. The idea was to showcase our plants and advise visitors how to grow and care for theim. We also wanted to know if there were any brave volunteers to try some fruit....there weren’t, apart from Gardens Keeper Alex who took one for the team - literally!

It was a great day and really well organised event by the guys at Spitalfields.

In October we harvested all our remaining fruit and Horniman Café Chef Jason is producing our very own chilli chutney which will be available to buy in the Café and at our Farmers’ Market held every Saturday on the Bandstand Terrace.

We look forward to seeing you there.

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