Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Palace Fig

Far be it from me to suggest that gardeners are an inquisitive bunch, but if we were to see a long, high wall which hid a garden from public view, would we turn down an opportunity to visit that garden? I know I wouldn't, especially if those garden gates had been closed to the public for 800 years. EIGHT HUNDRED! It feels as if I have been waiting every second of those 800 years to see this garden!


Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, has the oldest continuously cultivated garden in London. Imagine! If you, like me, spent eternal terms at school colouring in booklets about Tudors, and then immersed yourself in televised Tudor shenanigans in later life, would you be able to contain yourself at the idea of wandering around Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s patch? The very notion that this garden had already been in cultivation for 300 years in Henry VIII's time was almost enough to sidetrack me from the plants!


Of course, the garden is not as it was when Cranmer annulled Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and married Henry to Anne Boleyn. Major changes took place after 1783, when John Moore became Archbishop. Walkways, tree belts and contouring made at his instigation can still be seen today. A fig tree, which was over 200 years old at the time, survived the changes. Ficus carica 'White Marseilles', was planted by Reginal Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1556 (the year Cranmer was executed and just nine years after Henry VIII's death).



Archbishop Pole had been in exile for part of Henry VIII's reign, and it is thought that he brought the fig cutting to Lambeth Palace from Southern Italy. Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave Pope Francis a cutting from the fig tree. 


Nowadays the garden is maintained according to organic principles where possible. For the compostholics among us (which I hope is everybody), here is a photo of the engine room of the garden. Apart from the aforementioned wall, you can just about see the edge of the compost bays with their more advanced contents opposite these bins. I wouldn't normally excite us all with compost pictures, but then again, inspecting composting areas at palaces isn't an everyday occurrence for me.


At around ten acres, it is the second largest private garden in London (the garden at Buckingham Palace being bigger). It is located across the river from Parliament and right under the nose of St Thomas’ Hospital, so it is a busy place, yet it is surprisingly peaceful. Bee hives, flowers, lawns, trees, a swing, topiary, and a heron fishing in the pond. If it wasn't for the tops of double-decker buses and the Palace of Westminster peeping over the wall, we might be forgiven for thinking that we were in the countryside. 


This private garden is used by the Archbishop, his family and staff. Despite its size, the layout makes it feel comfortable. It is one of those rare gardens that has a dimension which goes beyond design. It is not just all the layers of history; it is a special place to be. 


The garden is only open to the public on two more occasions this year: the first Wednesdays in September and in October. If you happen to be in London on one of those Wednesday afternoons, I recommend that you grab the opportunity to visit; entry is just £4. It is next door to the Garden Museum, so it is very easy to combine a visit to the two. 




35 comments:

  1. I wish I were in London on one of those dates, it looks so interesting. I find it hard to imagine that there's such large gardens in the centre of London.

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    1. I hope that they continue the open afternoons next year - perhaps then you might get the chance to see it.

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  2. You Brits are so drenched in history. Thanks for sharing a bit of it along with a peek into these gardens. Your excitement is palpable and certainly well-placed.

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    1. We are drenched in history! I forget about it sometimes. I have recently been in Croatia and got all excited about Roman history there - then remembered that I live in a place where Roman coins are regularly found!

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  3. Love that second shot. Beautiful garden.

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    1. It is - and quite mixed - there are some lovely espalier fruit trees which I haven't included in the photos.

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  4. Wow, what a gorgeous place. I'd love to see it up close!

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    1. Fingers crossed that one day you might!

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  5. it's hard to imagine EIGHT hundred years of garden!

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    1. It is! I have a four hundred year old house and that seems old, but this garden is twice that age! Imagine the gardeners who have tended it over the years... it's extraordinary.

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  6. The history, the beauty and at the same time it's all so inviting. The crinum border is worth copying. Would love to tour this garden also.

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    1. The Crinum border is lovely. I went over to inspect it and found myself staring into a pantry. That's the trouble with windows... they sidetrack nosy visitors from the plants!

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  7. We normally don't get down to London on Wednesdays but must make an exception!
    I don't remember it being open when we came down for London Squares Gardens Open weekend in June

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    1. I really recommend that you do. I put their website at the end of the post - it gives more details about the two open afternoons left this year.

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  8. Dear Sarah, I am envious! Wish I could see the garden myself. thanks for shearing. groetjes,
    Hetty

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    1. Fingers crossed you will get an opportunity to visit it!

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  9. The garden looks wonderful. We haven't in the past really appreciated our history, many wonderful houses and gardens have been lost.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Despite that, thankfully we still have plenty of gems worth visiting.

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  10. Although I hate the noise and crowds in London there are certainly many wonderful things to see and little gems like this are always such a treat.

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    1. I have to say, on the day I visited, Westminster was as busy as I've seen it (with the exception of New year), but the garden was such an escape!

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  11. This garden is already for years on my wishlist to visit when we are in London, looking at your pictures I think it's a must next time we are there.

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    1. Oh good! I hope you can time your visit to coincide with one of its open afternoons.

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  12. A fascinating post. I thought at first you must have had a personal invitation from the Archbishop and now I find I can go too. Thanks for the tip, I will certainly try to go and see.

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    1. I hope you enjoy your visit as much as I did!

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  13. My three year old 'White Marseilles' fig has a long way to go to catch up with it illustrious cousin! Thanks for the peak into a beautiful garden. It does look to be quite relaxing.

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    1. It is surprisingly relaxing there. I have a rather sad Brown Turkey fig - it lived in a pot for years and I finally planted it in the garden a few months ago. I'm hoping it stops sulking - if not, I may look for a fig with a more glam name!

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  14. Replies
    1. It is a lovely garden - hidden away in such a busy place.

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  15. How captivating! I would have been in there like a shot too....now I can't wait to visit! Thanks for visiting, I have enjoyed reading your lovely blog. I shall be back...xxx

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    1. Welcome! And thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you get to visit the garden.

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  16. How captivating! I would have been in there like a shot too....now I can't wait to visit! Thanks for visiting, I have enjoyed reading your lovely blog. I shall be back...xxx

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  17. I would certainly be right there with you, probably with a copy of Wolf Hall in my hand. Walled gardens provoke an instant curiosity, don't they?

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    1. Walled gardens definitely bring out the nosier sides in our characters. I love Wolf hall! It certainly enhanced my enjoyment of this garden - my imagination was running riot!

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    2. Walled gardens definitely bring out the nosier sides in our characters. I love Wolf hall! It certainly enhanced my enjoyment of this garden - my imagination was running riot!

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  18. It looks absolutely beautiful, that top photo is gorgeous. I'm a huge fan of figs, I get ridiculously excited every time I see a fig tree. Also rather thrilled to have discovered your lovely blog, I'm looking forward to following along.

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