The Museum is opening its garden as part of the Open Garden Squares Weekend 18th and 19th of June. We met with Gary, who helped create and has looked after the garden since 1988.
Hailing from Canada and moving to London to study psychotherapy at Regent College, Gary Eisenhauer’s green fingers have been integral to the award-winning garden since its first flowering in 1988. As he lived close by, Gary began to volunteer at the building when it was the London Lighthouse, initially as a receptionist and working in the residential unit.
Eventually plans were made to improve the garden. He says the garden was “pretty grim” when they started and it was joked amongst staff that “it looked like a prison exercise area” made up of concrete paving and white plastic furniture. It was so stark and bright “the glare meant you had to wear sunglasses”. The London Lighthouse was central in the campaign for raising awareness about HIV and Aids in the 1980’s and spearheaded progressive treatment for the disease. At the height of the crisis 2000 people a week would pass through the building, and the garden became a place of rest and contemplation. Many of the patients who passed away from the disease had their ashes scattered in the garden. Gary remembers how ‘people also sneaked ashes in and had little impromptu services. It was, and still is, an oasis for people.
We have groups from all over the world coming here at any one time. Yesterday we had a bus load of pensioners, who came to sit in the garden, I told them about what happened here. The Lighthouse is part of our history. The garden and building are still visited and much loved by those who volunteered in the centre and who lost loved ones in the crisis.
One of Gary’s favourite memories is a visit by icon Liz Taylor. “She was very small, like a lot of celebrities. Like a princess she smiled gracefully and when she stepped forward the crowd magically parted in awe.” Speaking of Princesses, the British Royal family were also regular visitors most famously Princess Diana. According to Gary “she would turn up in the middle of the night unannounced and patients would wake to find her holding their hands. The garden was opened by Princess Margaret and the crèche by Prince Charles.
Talking about some of the flora and fauna in the garden, Gary points out some of his favourite features including a Kifsgate Rose which is a rambling rose and the largest rose in England. The garden is “stuffed” according to Gary and has been curated in way so that it performs all year round. The flowers are on rotation and there is mixture of native and tropical plants including lilies, banana, kiwi and citrus ensuring the senses are stimulated by lots of wonderful and intriguing scents. The garden was given a kick start by a huge donation of plants from Crabtree and Evelyn’s display after the Chelsea Garden Show and since then has been a winner of awards and categories including the London Garden Society’s Best Garden.
Gary’s favourite part of the garden is the scented area which is ‘beautiful in the late evening as the scent is really strong. Gary jokingly implies that the garden is popular with ‘the grey-haired brigade’ as gardening is extremely popular and to him as a Canadian the love of gardening seems like a very English trait. He hopes that as the garden continues to grow. School groups can come and learn about nature and young people can be introduced to gardening as a profession.
The Museum of Brands are presenting the magical secret garden for Open Garden Squares Weekend, Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June. Visitors are welcomed to enjoy the garden, meet Gary the gardener and enjoy activities for the whole family.
Read more on the Museum’s What’s On page.
Regular Museum admission charges apply.