A sponsored swim to save the Garden Museum

  • Christopher Woodward

Swimming from Newlyn in Cornwall to Tresco, on the Isles of Scilly, the route retraces a journey made by the painter-gardener Cedric Morris, one of the Museum’s ‘patron saints’, in 1950. Cedric went by boat, no one has swum the route before.

Artist-gardener Cedric Morris’ garden at Benton End in Suffolk was celebrated in one of the Garden Museum’s most popular exhibition to date two years ago. In the winter of 1950 he shut up the Art School he’d established at Benton End, and sailed from Newlyn – the artists’ colony where he had lived in the 1920s – to Tresco.

The 50 mile swim will take between two and four days, depending on weather and tides, with naps on the accompanying boat manned by a Swimquest crew. To train for the challenge, Woodward will need to practice swimming 4 miles a day for two months.

The Garden Museum is particularly vulnerable

The months and years ahead are unchartered and full of risk for museums, and the Garden Museum is particularly vulnerable because as an independent museum, 70% of its income is from visitors, events, café and venue hire. Between March and June this year, the Museum will have lost £270,000.

This sponsored swim appeal is to raise funds to replace that income, so that the Museum can re-open to visitors, turn back on lights, re-assemble its team – currently on furlough or part-time – and start putting on events, education and exhibitions again.

Previous sponsored swims

Since 2010, Woodward has done four swims to help raise funds to build the Museum, and promised not to ask for sponsorship again. Then came the virus.

Earlier sponsored swims were inspired by the life, gardening and travels of John Tradescant, the great gardener whose tomb inspired the founding of the Garden Museum: the Hellespont in 2010, The Strait of Gibraltar in 2011, the Thames from Oxford to London in 2014, and three years ago a section of The Arctic Circle. Since running out of journeys inspired by Tradescant, for this swim Woodward turned to the Garden Museum’s new hero, artist-gardener Cedric Morris.

Future Garden Museum projects to save

On the horizon the Garden Museum has exhibitions on Derek Jarman, Constance Spry, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’, Geoffrey Jellicoe and Lucian Freud. Last year sixty schools came to study plant biology; sixty community groups met; there were 73 food learning events, including a ground-breaking partnership with our local GP surgery for patients with Type 2 Diabetes; our Clay 4 Dementia programme won a national award.

The Garden Museum has set up the country’s first archive of garden design. Our next research project is to explore the gardens made in London by the Windrush generation. We hold British Flowers Week, and Fairs on houseplants, art, potatoes and pumpkins, and are the only Museum to have its own Literary Festival. We are beginning design work on Lambeth Green, a 5.3 acre park to be made around the Museum, with a horticultural training centre and a ‘green traffic junction’ which could be an exemplar for the city of the future.

All that is on hold, and at risk, because of the virus.  

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