The Infirmers' Garden, Westminster

England's Oldest Garden

At the time of writing this blog from the Infirmers’ Garden containing the Herbarium, the nearby Palace of Westminster is in turmoil with Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers resigning-left and right. In sharp contrast, I am enjoying the relative tranquillity of the garden which is being lovingly caressed by some welcome spring sunshine. This beautiful green parcel of serenity, in the midst of Westminster’s tourist epi-centre, is surrounded on each side by different historical stories – each one unique and compelling.

The garden was constructed by the monks of the abbey of Westminster and is not only the oldest cultivated garden in England. It is actually the same size as it was in the 11th century - apart from the ground at the north-eastern end which was sequestered by Edward 111 in 1365 to build the Jewel Tower. The gardens’ medieval walls along the eastern and southern sides are still intact as is the boundary wall on the other side. I am convinced that the reason for its innate calm is that despite its close proximity to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament - few people actually know it is here. Another bonus is that the garden is free – and also provides ingress to the cloisters and museum – but only on three days a week, usually Tuesday to Thursday.

It is easy to imagine what it might have been like with the original orchard, the herbarium (created in 1306 for medicinal herbs), cider mill, pond and vineyard (1310). There was once a channel leading to a mill to the south – from where the word Millbank derives. Once-upon-time Thorney Island stood here between the Thames and the River Tyburn on which the Abbey was built. For seekers of hidden London – look no further - for here is a gem of immeasurable value.

The garden in which I stand today has a fig tree, plane trees planted in 1850 and two lovely mulberry trees at each end. On one side of the garden is Westminster School that boasts Ben Johnson, Nick Clegg and Sir John Gielgud among its famous alumni. For lovers of quiet contemplation, visitors can experience a curious meditative calm. I feel blessed sitting on one of the benches contemplating over a thousand years of religious and political history and the famous figures that might once have sat and enjoyed the same.