The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 1 Introduction

Monastic gardens in London

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When Roman civilisation had been swept away in Britain, and with it all vestiges of the earliest gardens, there are no vestiges of horticulture until Christianity had taken hold of the country, and religious houses were rising up in various parts of the kingdom. The cradle of modern gardening may be said to have been within the peaceful walls of these monastic foundations. In no part of the country were they more numerous than in and around London, and it is probable that every establishment had its garden for the supply of vegetables, and more particularly medicinal herbs. Attached to most of them, there was also a special garden for the production of flowers for decoration on church festivals. It is probable that the earliest London gardens were of this monastic character, and as long as the buildings were maintained the gardens were in existence. The Grey, the Black, the White, and the Austin Friars all had gardens within their enclosures; and the Hospitaller Orders-the Templars and Knights of St. John-had large gardens within their precincts. The Temple Garden is still one of the charms of London, but only the old gateway of the Priory of St. John in Clerkenwell remains, and the garden, with all its historical associations, has long since vanished. It was in a small upper room, "next the garden in the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England, without the bars of West Smythfield," that Henry VII., in the first year of his reign, gave the Great Seal to John Morton, Bishop of Ely, and appointed him Chancellor, and he "carried the seal with him" to his house, Ely Place, hard by (Close Roll, Henry VII.). These small references show the picturesque side of such events, the gardens constantly being the background of the scenes. It is only one more of the regrettable results of the barbarous way in which the Reformation was carried out in England, that the gardens shared the fate of the stately buildings round whose sheltering walls they flourished. It is not easy to picture the desolation of those days: the unkept, uncared-for garden, trodden under foot, makes the forlorn aspect of the despoiled monasteries more pathetic.