Exhibition at the Redbridge Museum in Ilford puts borough's love of gardens and allotments

Wanstead Park in 1813

Wanstead Park in 1813

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East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Photograph of the Author by , Sub Editor

The beginnings of botany, grand estates and the humble allotment are examined in a new exhibition on a borough’s gardens.

Great Gardens, which has opened at Redbridge Museum, tells the story of the area’s green spaces, such as Valentine’s Park in Ilford, and its place between the city and the countryside.

One gardener it focuses on is Richard Warner, who was based at Harts House in The Green, Woodford Green, in the mid-18th century and was one of the first to scientifically examine plants.

Museum manager Gerard Greene said: “He was friends with the great and the good.

“He wrote a study of all the wild flowers in the Woodford neighbourhood and published it himself.

“Like a lot of gentlemen scientists at the time, he was an amateur, but they started the process of scientific examination of plants.”

The gardener also designed extensive gardens at the estate, which included a fashionable mock-gothic ruined abbey.

The estate, which dates back to the 13th century and is now a nursing home, was used after Mr Warner’s time as a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers, taking advantage of the open space.

Mr Greene said: “Tuberculosis was a major killer at the time and the only way of treating it was to get fresh air into people’s lungs.

“Green space being used to treat people is another aspect of the subject we pick up on in the exhibition.

“There were a number of sanatoria in the area.”

The grounds of Wanstead House, which was one of the first stately homes in the country to have its gardens transformed to the neo-classical style in the 1700s, are also explored in the exhibition.

Mr Greene said: “We trace the changes in the landscape design from a formal garden influenced by the palace of Versailles in France to the natural approach.”

Examples of everyday gardens and allotments through the years are also on display, with a front lawn from an 1870s town house and a Second World War air-raid shelter forming part of the exhibition.

The growing popularity of allotments in recent years is also tracked, with a section of the exhibition focussing on plots in Seven Kings and the people who tend them.

Mr Greene said: “We’re trying to cover all aspects of gardening.

“I think for a long time, allotments were seen as the preserve of the old man and for a number of reasons, they’ve become a lot more popular recently, with the waiting list full in Redbridge.”

The exhibition, which is organised by Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure Trust on behalf of Redbridge Council, runs until June 22 at the museum in Clemets Road, Ilford.

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