The history of the Allen Gallery garden dates back to the days when William Curtis (1803-81), the founder of the museum, lived at 4, High Street.
A relative born in Lenten Street a generation before, was also named William Curtis (1746-99) and from an early age he developed a passion for the study of natural history. This coincided with the time when there was an increasing interest in plants and botanical exploration. His apprenticeship as an apothecary stimulated an interest in plants which continued throughout his lifetime.
In 1778 he opened his own Botanical Garden, but success came towards the end of his life when he started publishing the Botanical Magazine in 1787. The publication aimed to make a display of the Flower Garden of ornamental foreign plants cultivated in the open ground or garden. It proved to be the birth of a botanical and publishing phenomenon and subscriptions can still be taken out.
In the late 1970s the present garden was designed and laid out by the County Landscape Department and it was maintained and developed by museum and gallery staff with great success. During the past year much work has been done in the garden to improve the visitor experience by adding plants or varieties mentioned in the Botanical Magazine between 1787 and 1807.
The present garden is a mixture of herbaceous and shrub borders as well as raised beds and it has been planned so that there should be something of interest at all times of the year.
A new pergola was built in 2007 and will soon be clothed by roses and clematis. Additional chairs and benches have been positioned so that visitors may relax and enjoy the garden.
The sundial is mounted on a piece of stone from the old London Bridge which was re-built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. This bridge was replaced in 1831 and demolished the following year, and the stone baluster was presented to the museum by Alderman James Curtis, an uncle of the museum’s founder.
Many other plants, shrubs and bulbs have been added to enhance the year-round colour and scent, such as a Medlar, Lonicera frangrantissima, viburnams and roses. The bulbs create a colourful welcome early in the year and continue on into the Spring when the perennials start to emerge.
The ‘terrace area’ has tables and chairs and parasols for when the sun is shining, where visitors may enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and cake. The terrace has been planted with scent in mind and is surrounded by lavender, herbs and pinks.
The garden does not set out to be a botanic garden, but more a place where visitors can relax and perhaps gain ideas for their own gardens as well.
A recent addition to the garden is an attractive arbour to celebrate the 90th birthday the late Joan Richardson, formerly Treasurer of the Museum and Gallery Friends.