The Garden Museum re-opens on 17 May: sign up to our newsletter

Home > A Sponsored Swim to Save the Garden Museum

A Sponsored Swim to Save the Garden Museum

50 miles from Newlyn in Cornwall to Tresco Abbey Garden

In October our Director Christopher Woodward began his swim from the artists’ colony at Newlyn in Cornwall to the gardens of Tresco, and reached Wolf Rock Lighthouse before lockdown and winter storms put a stop to the swim. Christopher has 28 miles to go – and the swim has raised £311,000 towards our target of £370,000 to save the Museum. We are incredibly grateful that over one thousand people have made donations. The current lockdown makes our Appeal for survival just as urgent and in April Christopher will be returning to complete the swim.


Donate now

Sponsor Christopher’s Scilly Isles Swim

Live Updates 

UPDATE: 9/11/20 Christopher’s video diary of his progress on Day Four – and making it halfway to the Isles of Scilly.

UPDATE: 21/10/20 Christopher has written an update to all sponsors about his progress, the ferocious tides, and when he will be back in the water, which you can read here.

Our Director’s Sponsored Swim letter, May 2020

I am writing to ask for your support to save the Garden Museum from the impact of the coronavirus: this year we need to raise an additional £370,000 to make up for lost income, to re-open, and to get our programme of exhibitions, events and education work started again.

To help raise this lost income, I am going to swim fifty miles from Newlyn in Cornwall to Tresco, on the Isles of Scilly. It retraces a journey made by the painter-gardener Cedric Morris, one of our Museum’s ‘patron saints’, in 1950, seventy years ago. Cedric went by boat; no one has swum the route before.

Swim route

Since 2010, I’ve done four swims to help raise funds to build the Museum. And promised not to ask for sponsorship again. And then came the virus.

The Museum is particularly vulnerable because 70% of our income is from visitors, events, café and venue hire. Between March and June we will have lost £270,000.

Our Appeal is to raise funds to replace that income, so that we can re-open to visitors, turn back on the lights, re-assemble our team – currently on Furlough or part-time – and start putting on events, education, and exhibitions again.

Even when closed, as now, it costs £17,000 a month in fixed costs of insurance, environmental systems, and maintenance to keep the historic building and its collection safe and secure. But we have so much to offer Friends, schools, neighbours and visitors. On the horizon we have 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 offering sessions for patients with Type 2 Diabetes; our Clay 4 Dementia programme won a national award.

We have set up the country’s first archive of garden design, and this has become a buzzing centre of original research and publications. Our next research project is to explore the gardens made in London by the Windrush generation. We make films of our heroes and heroines, from Beth Chatto to Penelope Hobhouse. We hold British Flowers Week, and Fairs on House-plants, and 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.

Swimming fifty miles of Atlantic is, I suppose, one way of showing pride in, and care for, the Museum we have built. Earlier sponsored swims were inspired by the life, gardening and travels of John Tradescant, the great gardener whose tomb inspired the foundation of the world’s first Museum dedicated to gardens: 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. However, I’ve run out of journeys inspired by Tradescant.

A new hero is the artist-gardener Cedric Morris, whose garden at Benton End in Suffolk was celebrated in one of our most popular exhibition to date two years ago. In the winter of 1950 he shut up the Art School he’d established in the Tudor house, and sailed from Newlyn – the artists’ colony where he had lived in the 1920s – to Tresco, where he stayed at The Atlantic Inn, painted, and, we imagine, botanized in the exceptional sub-tropical gardens begun by the Dorrien Smith family in the 19th-century.

The Museum is, at heart, about celebrating heroes and heroines, and their love for gardening. Cedric, like Tradescant, like Gertrude Jekyll or Russell Page, embodies that spirit: he liked plants, art, travel, solitude, people, sun, rain, food, but was happiest gardening. He was also, above all, an educator, and learning is the pulse of the Garden Museum.

Every donation, of whatever size, will help us come through this crisis, and, above all, we look forward to opening our doors and welcoming you back to the Museum.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Woodward



Donate now

Sponsor Christopher’s Scilly Isles Swim