[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 60 items

A contrast of colours in our Sunken Garden

Apprentice Gardener Ian Painter, tell us about his designs and planting for our Sunken Gardens summer bedding scheme.

Hi, my name is Ian and I have been working as an apprentice Gardener at the Horniman for almost three years now.

We change our Sunken Garden bedding twice a year, with a summer and a winter bedding. This has been done for many years now, since the Gardens were redeveloped in 2012, and this year I was responsible for planning the summer display.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

Both college and work have taught me a lot about bedding, so I knew that I needed to plan. To get started, I looked at previous years’ plans for inspiration and guidance, which we keep for that purpose. The measurements for the beds is 202 square metres: the two c-shaped outer beds are 68 square metres each and the middle four patches equal to 66 square metres.

When it came to choosing the plants for the bed, thinking of previous displays, the Salvia has always been a top choice as it’s highly cultivated and comes in a variety of colours. The previous Salvias we have had were two different cultivars but different shades of red: "Blaze of fire" and "forest fire" which were both very popular. Salvias are resistant to diseases, are easy to dead head and reach about 30cm tall.

I knew I definitely wanted Salvias, because I know how good they look and they are my favourite summer bedding plant, but I wanted to move away from red salvias.

I was taught that the best combinations of colours were either complementary colours or contrasting colours which are opposites on a colour wheel. White is a neutral and can go with any combination of colours.

I knew I wanted purple as my girlfriend had inspired me to use that colour, and I wanted to go with a contrast of colours, so the colour wheel led me to yellow.

With these colours in mind, I discovered a Salvia called “Salsa Purple” and used the contrast of Marigold “Yellow Boy”. I needed a third colour but struggled to find a dark orange or a baby blue to maintain the contrast, instead opting for a neutral: Cineraria “Silver dust”.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, A bee tucking in to Salvia Salsa Purple, Connie Churcher
    A bee tucking in to Salvia Salsa Purple, Connie Churcher

Now I had my three colours and plants, I needed some height. A good dot plant for summer beddings is cannas so I got a “Tropical white” canna to sit in the purple Salvia groups and the silver Cineraria. Not only does it add the lovely green of the stem to the bed colours but it has a lovely white flower.

  • Spot planting, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

The next step was to sketch out a design. As well as it being colour co-ordinated, it shows how I wanted the plants laid out. The blue dots are the cannas.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, The design for the Sunken Gardens, Ian Painter
    The design for the Sunken Gardens, Ian Painter

We started by rotavating the bed, which turns the soil, and added chicken manure pellets before smoothing the bed out. At this point, we measured the bed using my plan, and used bamboo sticks to mark out points, using sand to create the lines. My drawing was to the scale of 1cm = 1metre.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, The rotavated bed with bamboo sticks that mark out the pattern, Ian Painter
    The rotavated bed with bamboo sticks that mark out the pattern, Ian Painter

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Then the different sections were marked out in sand, Ian Painter
    Then the different sections were marked out in sand, Ian Painter

Once the marking out was done I transported the plants to the site and the planting was finished over a week.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, You can see the pattern forming with the plants, as well as the sand marking out the scheme for when we get to that area , Ian Painter
    You can see the pattern forming with the plants, as well as the sand marking out the scheme for when we get to that area , Ian Painter

Finally, we watered the plants with a sprinkler and spread slug pellets by the box hedging. 

I’m pleased with how it has turned out. It’s caught a lot of attention and pleasant comments, so I am very proud of it. Although this post makes it sound brief, it was a lot of hard work!

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, The finished result, Ian Painter
    The finished result, Ian Painter

The other members of the team and I put our heart and soul into making the bed and would love you to visit to see our hard work. I hope you have enjoyed this blog or learned something new, and if you do visit I hope you’ll love the summer bed as much as me and the Gardens Team do. 

Muddy Bees is back

With our outdoor play session returning Wednesday 5 July and Tuesday 26 September, volunteer Gemma Murray provides us with some great ideas how you can have some messy but manageable fun at home.

Muddy Bees is an outdoor play session for under 5s run by the Horniman throughout the summer months and there are two more sessions left for this year: Wednesday 5 July and Tuesday 26 September.

Since we are lucky enough to have our wonderful Gardens at the Horniman Muddy Bees takes place on a grand scale. With a massive water butt, several tables, and tonnes of pots and pans, we can offer you sand, water, mud pie making, and lots of messy fun.

However, often parents will ask us for ways to replicate our games in the more confined spaces of their own homes and gardens. So here are my top five outdoor game ideas, be warned though, there's always bound to be a little mess.

Plant Sprayer Shootout

Set up a series of targets around your garden, this could be anything from plastic cups and bottles to something as simple as a sheet of paper with a target drawn on it. Arm each child with a plant sprayer and see if they can hit the targets. Older kids will have to stand further back than younger ones in the interest of fairness. Watch out, there's a high chance that this could spill over to a fully fledged water fight.

Water Drawing

Another one that makes use of plant sprayers, but a clean set of paint brushes and a pot of water works just as well. This one couldn't be simpler, just let your little ones loose on whatever surface they can find. Fences, patios, and walls will all become blank canvases for them to express themselves on, and you could end up with a clean patio for their troubles too.


Chalk can look rather tasty so make sure nothing ends up in your kids' mouths, but, like water, chalk offers a chance for children to express their artistic sides with minimal cleanup so drawing on pretty much anything goes. 

Water Trays

Make your own paddling pools with just a tub of water. This works very well with babies but big brothers and sisters will probably want a piece of the action too. Adding food colouring to the water can prove an interesting experiment for older kids who want to see what colours they can mix together but can lead to bright blue fingers leaving their mark. 


Gather up ingredients to brew a 'magic' potion in any waterproof container you can find. Sticks, mud, leaves, petals, stones, or whatever your kids can get their hands on are sure to result in something as magical as it is messy. Last year, my kids were delighted to discover that their concoction made in a chocolate tin has transformed into a viable pond full of growing grass and little wriggly things. I was a little less thrilled when it came time to clean up.

Spring Welly Walk

This spring, a group of young explorers and their families walked the length of the Horniman Nature Trail.

They were accompanied by nature guide Shayna Soong and armed with binoculars and a Signs of Spring spotter sheet.

Only one of the families had visited the trail before, so this was a real walk on the wild side for most of the group.

The Horniman Nature Trail lies in an area that once formed part of the so-called Great North Wood. Other fragments of this wood are found in this area at One Tree Hill and Sydenham Hill Woods.

In 1865 a railway line was built to bring visitors to Crystal Palace. This was the London, Chatham and Dover line. Almost all trees and vegetation were cleared to make the railway. A railway bridge used to cross London Road here to the Lordship Lane station.

On our walk, we looked for historical clues and relics that remind us of its history as a railway line, such as the bumpy clinker underfoot.

We also looked for signs of spring. The challenge was to keep an eye out for blossom, flowers, birds and pond life and fill out a spotter sheet. Once the sheet had been filled out, they could shout out BINGO (but not too loud as to disturb the wildlife!).

We used a parabolic microphone to listen to birdsong which brought the lively chirping and tweeting so much closer.

A male newt from the pond was met with shrieks of delight as it showed off its breeding spots and crests. We also looked at the bat boxes and bird boxes along the route.

What will the Summer Welly Walk bring?  Come along on Saturday 8th July to find out!

We also have two exciting Bat Walks coming up, one for families on the 11 August and one for adults on the 18 August. Come with us to explore these exciting creatures. 

Birds in the Horniman Gardens

Ornithological consultant and bird expert David Darrell-Lambert tells us what to expect at our annual Dawn Chorus Walk

  • Birds in the Horniman Gardens, Blackbird, David Darrell-Lambert
    Blackbird, David Darrell-Lambert

How long have you been leading the Horniman Dawn Chorus Walk?

My first one was seven years ago, seven years! I didn’t realise that it has been so long.

Are the Horniman Gardens a good place to hear the tweets of the dawn chorus?

The Horniman Gardens are an excellent place to hear the explosion that erupts as the dawn chorus starts. You have a nice mix of habitat there with the wooded section along the bottom of the hill, the open grass section in the middle and the gardens at the top. This means you get a nice variety of birds and not too many so you are bombarded, which can be daunting.

  • Birds in the Horniman Gardens, Stock Dove, David Darrell-Lambert
    Stock Dove, David Darrell-Lambert

What birds are you likely to hear?

A great variety, from Great Spotted Woodpeckers to Blackcaps to Goldfinches to Great Tit to Wrens – you can stand on the Nature Trail and hear two miniature Wrens trying to out-compete each other with their loud vocal skills. Once the early birds have finished then you get the second wave with species such as the Goldfinch jangling away from the various chestnut trees in the grounds.

What are the most distinctive bird tweets?

That would be either the Robin, which sings the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with long pauses between each burst, or the Great Tit, singing the mechanical Tea-cher, Tea-cher, Tea-cher.

  • Birds in the Horniman Gardens, Robin, David Darrell-Lambert
    Robin, David Darrell-Lambert

Do you have any good tips for bird watchers and listeners out there?

Don’t try to learn more than one or two every time you go out; you’ll just overload yourself. Join a guided walk and listen to the explanations as to how you can distinguish between the different bird song you can hear. If you don’t know what species is singing, try to find it or record it on your phone, then you can upload it to a website and ask people what it is.

What do you love about listening to the dawn chorus?

You never know what you will hear or how the birds will behave. Only last week, I heard a Wren giving an odd song/call – a rattle all on one note – that stumped me completely.

Book tickets for the Dawn Chorus Walk on 6 May or join David on Big Wednesday: Spring for a free tour.

The Conservatory's fresh face

You may have noticed our Conservatory has been under hoardings for a few weeks while we carry out some essential conservation and improvements.

The works are now finished, the hoardings have been removed, and you can now come and see our newly refreshed Conservatory. 

The most noticeable difference you will be able to see is our brand new flooring. It is now a wonderful black and white tiled design. 

The Conservatory now has under-floor heating, interior lighting and better drainage.  

We host a range of events in our Conservatory, especially weddings and civil ceremonies, and the work will help these events be better than ever. 

We hope, with these restoration works, we can keep the Conservatory in use for many years to come.

Find out how you can hire the Conservatory for your wedding or event. 


Our Conservatory under wraps

We are carrying out some essential conservation and improvements to our Grade II listed Conservatory.

We host a range of events in our Conservatory, especially weddings and civil ceremonies, and the work will include the installation of heating beneath a beautiful tiled floor, interior lighting and better drainage.

The work is due to be completed in March 2017.  

Did you know?

The conservatory was originally built at the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon, in 1894.

Coombe Cliffe house had been the home of our founder's parents, and Frederick Horniman's mother lived there until her death in 1900. After being sold in 1903, the house later served as a convalescent home for children, college of art, education centre and teachers' hub.

Over the years, many voices spoke out for the need for preservation of the Coombe Cliff Conservatory, as the house was eventually left abandoned and suffered from neglect. In 1977, the building suffered considerable damage in a fire.

Eventually, it was decided that the best way to preserve this listed building was to dismantle and move it to another location.

The dismantled Conservatory was eventually moved to the Horniman in 1986, and its reconstruction began in June 1987. The ambitious restoration project was completed in 1989.

We hope, with these restoration works, we can keep the Conservatory in use for many years to come.

Find out how you can hire the Conservatory for your wedding or event. 

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

We delve into the festive traditions and mythology surrounding mistletoe.

Mistletoe, or Viscum album, is a curious plant. It is a ‘hemi-parasite’, meaning it grows on a host tree, from which it takes water and support. Don’t worry though, it causes very little, if any, damage to its host. In fact, it has real value to wildlife - six species of insect are specialist mistletoe feeders, including the rare mistletoe marble moth Celypha woodiana and mistletoe weevil Ixapion variegatum. 

It was often seen as a mystical plant because it seemed to appear from nowhere, with no roots, and stayed evergreen when its host tree dropped its leaves in winter. We now know that its seeds are germinated to its host tree by passing birds and its roots are entwined with its host tree. But this small plant must have seemed magical to people long ago.

The earliest account of mistletoe is from the Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder. Writing in his Natural Histories in the first century AD, he described how Druids thought mistletoe taken from oak trees was sacred. Many modern Pagans still use mistletoe today.

However, mistletoe is seldom found on oaks. It is more likely to grow on trees such as apple, hawthorn, poplar, lime or conifers.

It is a festive tradition to hang up mistletoe around Christmas and New Year and plant a kiss on anyone you find yourself standing next to while beneath it. But why do we do this?

It is said the roots of this tradition stem from Norse mythology. According to legend, the Norse goddess of love and fertility, Frigg, made all living things promise not to harm her son Baldr because she wanted to protect him. However, she overlooked the mistletoe plant because it was so small. Baldr was then killed by an enemy using an arrow made from mistletoe. In some versions, Frigg’s tears land on the mistletoe and turn its berries to white which brings Baldr back from the dead. In gratitude, Frigg reverses the mistletoe’s bad reputation and kisses anyone who walks underneath it as a sign of gratitude.

It wasn’t until Victorian times that this tradition seems to become popular. It is said that a berry would be plucked for each kiss until all the berries were gone.

  • Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?, A hanging bough of mistletoe ,  creativecommons, Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).
    A hanging bough of mistletoe ,  creativecommons, Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).

Five tonnes of mistletoe are sold in the UK every year, most of which are imported from France. Much of the wild mistletoe in the UK grows in the west Midlands around the English/Welsh border. It is not very common in London but we do have some here at the Horniman, in our Gardens. Our boughs are high up in a tree on Meadow Field and our Gardeners are looking into growing them lower down on the trees so they are more visible.

Visit the Gardens and see what other plants you can spot.

Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School

The Horniman offers a Museum Club for three different local primary schools. Eliot Bank School’s Museum Club spent last term working towards their Arts Award, Discover level. Learning Assistant, Lucy, writes about the group’s work over the term.

Arts Award encourages children and young people to explore and take part in different art forms, creating a log-book to document their work. The scheme was a perfect fit for our Museum Club format, so we decided to pilot Arts Award with them.

Inspired by both the Horniman’s Festival of Brazil summer season and the beautiful Gardens, we decided to create miniature gardens for the project. Over the course of ten weeks, the group grew their own flowers and herbs from seed with the help of our Gardener, Damien.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Horniman Gardener, Damien, shows the students how to add plants to their miniature gardens.
    Horniman Gardener, Damien, shows the students how to add plants to their miniature gardens.

Sketching and taking inspiration from the different spaces in the Horniman Gardens, the group designed their own, scavenging for twigs and pebbles to incorporate into their designs.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Students from Eliot School with their miniature gardens
    Students from Eliot School with their miniature gardens

The Festival of Brazil summer season presented a fantastic opportunity for the group to work with a visiting Brazilian artist to create bandeirinhas (bunting) and to find out about her work, and Brazil, first-hand. They also learnt about Rio’s Selaron Steps, designing patterns and creating colourful mosaics on their plant pots in response.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Colourful mosaics were added to the plant pots
    Colourful mosaics were added to the plant pots

Finally, Helen our Librarian showed the group one of the Horniman’s rare books: a collection of cyanotypes created by the nineteenth century Botanist and Photographer Anna Atkins. The children were fascinated by her work and loved having the opportunity to see such a special object up-close.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Students learnt about Brazilian bunting used in festivals, and made some of their own!
    Students learnt about Brazilian bunting used in festivals, and made some of their own!

Having learnt about Atkin’s work and the science behind her cyanotypes, the group created their own (despite the lack of sunshine!) using leaves from the plants they had grown. The following week, the children taught their families and friends how to make cyanotypes, making them together.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Horniman Librarian, Helen, teaches the students about cyanotypes
    Horniman Librarian, Helen, teaches the students about cyanotypes

Their cyanotypes look fantastic and have contributed to a new book that is being added to the library’s collection!

The group loved taking part in the project, and we received lots of positive feedback from their teachers and families. 

Whilst requiring a lot more staff time than our usual Museum Club programme, the structure of Arts Award worked well for the group, giving them focus, motivation and a log-book to be very proud of. 

Finally, by presenting the group’s certificates in a school assembly, the project has inspired more children to join the club this year!’

Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo

Every month, the Animal Keepers introduce you to a member of their extended family. This month its double trouble as it’s all about Flymo and Gizmo, our pygmy goats.

The terrible twosome are a miniature breed of domestic goat, originating from the Cameroon Valley of West Africa. The breed was created by cross breeding West African Dwarf Goats and Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, Flymo and Gizmo, the Animal Walk pygmy goats.
    Flymo and Gizmo, the Animal Walk pygmy goats.

Pygmy goats are classified as a multi-purpose animal, as they have a variety of uses. They were originally imported for use in petting zoos, and quickly gained popularity as pets and companion animals for hobbyists and are very popular as show animals. Pygmy goats are also used for meat, milk and skin.

Goats have long held a reputation for being animal garbage disposals, but there is much more to them than just bottomless stomachs. New research has shown that goats are just as intelligent as dogs, with the ability to solve simple puzzles and challenges.

Don’t believe us? Come up to the Animal Walk and watch Flymo work out how to get the willow branch that is just out of reach. He has been known to go into his house, take out his feed bucket, flip it over and use it as a step ladder!

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, This is Flymo, our male pygmy goat who is light grey and black.
    This is Flymo, our male pygmy goat who is light grey and black.

Flymo and Gizmo’s diet includes hay, browse (such as twigs, sticks and hedgerow material), muesli mix and, very occasionally, fruit and veggies as treats. Although humorously named Flymo, ironically pygmy goats rarely graze and act as ‘lawn mowers’. However, pygmy goats are excellent at clearing hedge and scrub as part of conservation grazing management programmes in the UK.

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, This is Gizmo,our female pygmy goat who is mostly black-coloured.
    This is Gizmo,our female pygmy goat who is mostly black-coloured.

Pygmy goats love fun activities to do, they are superb climbers and will jump and play on obstacles. They are often seen balancing on the wooden stumps and on the sleepers inside their paddocks. As part of their natural behaviour, they head butt each other, the fences, objects and very occasionally their keepers.

Come visit the Animal Walk to meet the twins and the rest of Animal Walk residents.

The Animal Walk is open each day from 12.30pm to 4pm and entry is free.

Previous Next
of 60 items