The Garden Guide

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

John Evelyn's Garden of Sayes Court

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Before quitting these gardens of historic interest, there is one which must not be forgotten, although its former charms have vanished, and it can no longer claim such botanical curiosities as the Chelsea Physic Garden- that is, the remains of John Evelyn's Garden of Sayes Court. The Garden is now enjoyed by numbers in that crowded district of Deptford, through the kindness of Mr. Evelyn, the descendant of the famous diarist, John Evelyn, who keeps it up as well as opens it to the public. The Manor of Deptford was retained by the Crown in James I.'s time, and Sayes Court was leased to Christopher Browne, the grandfather of Sir Richard Browne, whose only daughter and heiress John Evelyn married. After his wife had succeeded to the property, and they had lived there some years and made the Garden, John Evelyn purchased the freehold land from Charles II. The delight he took in his garden, how he exchanged seeds and plants, imported rare specimens from abroad, through his many friends, and grew them with success, is well known. The ruthless way his treasures were treated by Peter the Great was a sore trial to Evelyn. The Czar amused himself, among other acts of vandalism, by being wheeled about the beds and hedges in a wheelbarrow. The holly hedge, even, he partially destroyed. In writing of the merits of holly in his "Sylva," Evelyn says of this one: "Is there under heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind, than an impregnable Hedge a hundred and sixty feet in length, and seven feet high, and five in diameter, which I can shew in my poor Gardens at any time of the year, glittering with its armed and vernish'd leaves? the taller Standards at orderly distances blushing with their natural Corall. It mocks at the rudest assaults of the Weather, Beasts, and Hedgebreakers." This hedge has long since departed, but young hollies, planted in groups on the same part of the Garden, keep up the old associations. One wing of the house is standing, and is at present used as a school. The walled garden on the south side is still there, and on the north a wide terrace walk, with a straight grass lawn with large beds, is in keeping with the old place. But instead of the views over the river, and the Garden descending to the water's edge, there is a high rampart of the buildings of the Foreign Cattle Market, from whence the sounds of lowing oxen mingle with the din of streets which close round the Garden on the three other sides. In spite of these drawbacks, it is delightful to know, that the surviving portion of the once-beautiful Garden is fulfilling a want among the poor in a way that would have appealed to the generous and kind-hearted author. These are some of the chief gardens of historic interest, but it by no means exhausts the list of the smaller ones rich in associations, green courts attached to schools, almshouses, hospitals, or such-like, which are hidden away in unexpected corners throughout London.