Several lifetimes ago, when I was running my cleaning business in Bath and working early mornings and evenings, I was a volunteer guide here for a few years. At that time the museum was only open in the afternoons, and it was an enjoyable way to get out of my home office and learn about American history.
I even spent one season as Mrs Conkey, making gingerbread in the basement tavern before opening time, and baking it in the wood oven to give to visitors as they passed through.
The New American Garden
The New American Garden has been designed by an American landscape architecture firm in free-form style using native American shrubs, perennials and bulbs. It’s very different from the old garden, which might come as a shock to some regular visitors!
I didn’t get any photos because it’s so recently planted, and also because there were crowds of people eager to inspect it. Like all new gardens it needs time to get established and in due course I’m sure it will lend an extra element to the museum.
The Mount Vernon garden, a replica of George Washington’s garden, has also been updated, based on new research of the original. Here’s a corner I snapped quickly between passers-by.
Where the lawn used to slope down towards the cherry avenue and stone steps is now a grass amphitheatre. On Saturday, when Alan Titchmarsh opened the gardens, it was filled with visitors enjoying the Park Lane Big Band playing jazz.
The Arboretum is still a peaceful haven, now just starting to turn yellow.
What to see at the American Museum & Gardens
Allow plenty of time if you’re planning a visit, as there is lots to see. Claverton Manor contains a series of period rooms constructed from panelling and floors transported from demolished buildings in the US. Decorated with original furniture and artworks they trace the history of America from the first settlers to the 20th century.
The museum has a famous textile collection, including patchwork quilts of many styles. One of my favourite parts is the Folk Art Gallery, which contains simple portraits like this one below, weathervanes, cigar store Indians and shop signs. The Exhibition Gallery hosts annually changing exhibitions, currently Side by Side, on the role of America in the First World War.
You can buy American cakes and cookies in the cafe, and do some US-style shopping in the Country Store, or the Herb Shop, where flowers and herbs from the garden are made into small posies called Tussie Mussies.
I love the strapline we spotted on one of the American Museum information leaflets – Get your kicks off the A36!