The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 12 Historical Gardens

Fulham Palace Gardens

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The Garden of Fulham, the other ecclesiastical palace of London, is even more interesting than Lambeth, on account of the fine trees still remaining of which the history is known. Among the Bishops of London several have shown great interest in the gardens, and two especially, Grindal and Compton, were eminent gardeners. The tamarisk was introduced by Bishop Grindal, and in the golden age of gardening he was in the foremost rank of the patrons of the art, with Bacon and Burghley. He used to send Queen Elizabeth presents of choice fruits from his garden, and on one occasion got into trouble by sending fruit, when one of his servants was supposed, unjustly, to have the plague. He wrote (5th August 1566) to Burghley, to say he was sorry he had "no fruit to offer him but some grapes." These grapes were of course produced out of doors, as growing vines in green-houses was a fashion unknown until some 150 years later. Even before the additions of Grindal, the gardens were extensive, and Bonner is said to have been much in his garden, not from the love of its repose, but, according to contemporary but prejudiced chroniclers, because in the further arbours of the garden he could with the rod or by other equally stringent measures, "persuade" undisturbed those of the reformed religion to recant and adopt his views. His successor, Grindal, used the Garden for more laudable and peaceful practices, and his work of planting was much appreciated in that garden-loving age. Bishop Aylmer, who, after Sandys, succeeded Grindal in 1577, was accused of destroying much of Grindal's work and cutting down his trees, then some thirty-five years old. Strype, however, protests that he only cut down "two or three of the decayed ones." That there should be a controversy on the subject only shows how much was thought of Grindal's planting. The same thing happened after the death of Compton, the next great planter, as Robinson, who followed him, let the gardener sell and cut down as much as he liked. In our own day, even, some of Compton's elms have been removed, to make the alterations in the Bishop's Park when it was opened to the public. The Bishop's Park is the long, narrow strip of land between the moat and the river. Flowering shrubs on the bank of the moat, and rows of cut plane trees by the river, have been planted. There are two long asphalt paths, and some bedding out and rock gardening between the grass lawns. It is now kept in order by the Borough of Fulham, which reminds the public of the fact by the notices stuck up: "Ratepayers, protect your property." The Elm Avenue was part of Compton's design, and many very fine trees known to be his remain to this day. During the long duration of his episcopate-1675 to 1714-he had time to see his plants grow and flourish. His gardening achievements were much appreciated in his own day. John Evelyn, a great authority on horticultural matters, was often at Fulham. He notes in his Diary on Oct. 11, 1681: "To Fulham to visit the Bishop of London, in whose garden I first saw the Sedum arborescens in flower, which was exceedingly beautiful." Richard Bradley, a well-known gardener, in his book published in 1717, quotes many of the plants at Fulham as examples in his pages. With regard to the passion flower, his notice is interesting, as it gives the name of Bishop Compton's gardener. "That [the passion flower] may bear fruit," he writes, "we must Plant it in very moist and cool places, where it may be continually fed with Water; this I had from the Curious Mr. Adam Holt, Gardener to the late Bishop of London, who shew'd me a letter from the West Indies, from whence I learnt it was an Inhabitant of Swampy Places." Bradley had seen the pistachio fruiting against a wall at Fulham, and he thought he had also noticed an olive flourishing there. From time to time there have been special notices of the trees round the Bishop's palace. Sir William Watson wrote a paper on them for the Royal Society, in which he gives a list of thirty-seven special trees, many of them the finest of their kind in England. "For exemplification of this I would," he says, "recommend to the curious observer the black Virginian walnut tree, the cluster pine, the honey locust, the pseudoacacia, the ash maple, &c., now remaining at Fulham." Many of the later bishops have paid great attention to the grounds. Bishop Porteous (1787-1809) who planted cedars; Howley (1813-1828), and especially Blomfield (1828-1856), all took delight in the Garden. Bishop Blomfield planted a deciduous cypress and the ailanthus, which now measures 10 feet 4 inches at 4 feet from the ground, curiously exactly the same girth as the one at Broom House close by. In 1865, Bishop Tait had the old trees measured, and there are later measurements of some of the finest. The cork tree was 13 feet 9 inches, and although sadly shattered, part of this magnificent old tree, with its thick cork bark, still holds its own. The great black walnut or hickory has not been so fortunate, and died about ten years ago, and only a venerable stump is left; but a good specimen still stands in the meadow. The great tree in 1865 measured 15 feet 5 inches; in 1894, 17 feet 3 inches. The tulip tree died about the same time as the hickory. The honey locust (Gleditschia triacanthos), one of Bishop Compton's trees, only died last year, the large white elm in 1904, and, sad to say, the flowering ash (Fraxinus ornus) was blown down in March 1907. The Wych elm and a beautiful walnut still flourish, and also the variety of Turkey oak (Quercus cerris lucumbeana or fulhamensis), so in spite of many disasters Fulham Palace still can show some fine trees.