Historic parks and gardens are a much-loved part of our shared national story, appreciated now more than ever as COVID-19 forces us to evaluate the role of open space in our lives.
Sadly though, these unforgettable gardens are themselves at risk. Gardens and landscapes have always been vulnerable to destruction through maintenance cuts, neglect, development or mismanagement but now these precious treasures are more at risk than ever, as COVID-19 has forced many historic gardens to shut their doors and lose essential ticket revenue, whilst on the flip side public parks struggle to serve the growing needs of their communities for outside exercise.
From 2020 to 2022 The Gardens Trust will be celebrating Unforgettable Gardens – what they mean to us, the threats they face, and how you can help save them for future generations.
The Gardens Trust
Unforgettable Gardens in Northamptonshire
Chichele College Garden is just one example of an 'unforgettable garden' in Northamptonshire – a place of peace, beauty and tranquillity.
“Chichele has been so magical for me during this time. There were a few occasions on Thursday nights especially when it had been a difficult week for us in the NHS where I would go and sit on 'my bench' and hear Higham's appreciation of the key workers. Whilst I was not on the front line … we were working very long hours. It was my sanctuary and where I could shed a few tears."
Claira - NHS worker
Please do share your favourites with us.
Chichele College Garden
An unforgettable “hidden gem” revealed
For many years the idea had been expressed of creating a medieval style garden on the site of Chichele College, a scheduled Monument in the Northamptonshire town of Higham Ferrers.
The Chichele College Garden is now a well-established community garden complete with a cloister garth and trellis.
This is in keeping with the time that it was a functioning college for secular cannons founded in 1422 by Henry Chichele, who went on to become one of the longest serving Archbishops of Canterbury.
The site is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and English Heritage are its custodians.
The walled garden with its ancient ruin and foundations was the town’s hidden gem; a place of peace and tranquillity whose beauty deserved to be enhanced. Surveys indicated that the few who had visited the site were enchanted by its special atmosphere, but many were unaware of its existence. It was clear that the potential of this unique garden should be unlocked and unforgotten.
From the beginning it was agreed to design a garden true to the site with planting sympathetic to its historical significance. Higham Ferrers Tourism, a group of volunteers, ensured that the garden would meet the identified wishes of the community, accommodating within the site a designated space for arts, cultural, heritage and community events.
The planting of trees, shrubs, climbing plants, flowers and herbs are all chosen to reflect the plants from medieval gardens and monasteries with many native species naturally serving to increase biodiversity.
Thanks to the extensive knowledge and guidance of Jenny Burt of the Northamptonshire Gardens Trust the planting remains true to the medieval period.
Likewise, the advice of Michael Brown from Prebendal Manor, the largest medieval garden in the country, also an NGT member, was invaluable. Michael provided many plants including a mandrake and a rare peony which is now well established in the wide trellis border.
Throughout the garden heritage fruit trees have been planted and include a medlar, two Mirabelle plums, a Morello cherry and two apple trees; Court Pendu Plat and Catshead.
Wildflowers are nurtured most particularly in the border behind the ruin and in the Physic Border.
How the garden was created
The creation of the garden was the result of the work of Higham Ferrers Tourism, a group of volunteers who strive to make the town a better place. National Lottery Community Spaces funding was secured for the hard landscaping together with a donation from the Duchy of Lancaster. Planting costs were covered by community fund raising which included a public Pledge a Plant scheme.
In 2014 Chichele College’s potential as an educational resource was developed still further when Moulton College students on the Foundation Course studying for a degree in Garden Design were invited to create designs in keeping with the site and further enhance and compliment what had already been established; the cloister garth, the trellis section and the wild border.
The students worked to a brief commissioned by English Heritage and Higham Ferrers Tourism offering students the opportunity to research medieval plants and gardens as well as experience the scope and limitations related to working on an ancient Scheduled Monument site. The winning design by Jill Stewart resulted in a now, well established, Physic Garden and a Chichele Border as a tribute to Higham’s most famous “son” in the 600-year anniversary of Henry Chichele becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.
Without the dedicated commitment of a small team of volunteer gardeners, many of whom are also members of Northamptonshire Gardens Trust, the beauty of the garden would soon diminish. They have weeded, planted, trimmed, pruned, propagated and sown.
This special community garden is indebted to them and to all those who generously give their time to organise such a wide range of events from Brass on the Grass to Garden Fairs and Horticultural Shows, Heritage and Art Exhibitions to Santa’s Grotto in his Winter Wonderland.
A garden enjoyed by many
Being medieval, the Chichele Garden must serve as one of the oldest walled gardens in the country; a garden in keeping with the historical significance of the site, providing a place of peace, beauty and tranquillity as well as a valuable place for the community to interact. A once hidden, but thankfully unforgotten gem has been brought back to life.
Last year over 5,000 visited the events held and in addition, many just enjoyed the site as a Scheduled Monument and charming medieval style garden. The garden is always open and free to enter.
During the strange times of the Covid-19 lockdown, this community garden has become a place of quiet repose for those fortunate enough to be able to take a daily walk most especially for those without a garden of their own.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, many images of the garden’s unfurling blooms and blossoms have been shared, conscious that not all can take a walk and physically experience its special qualities of mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Take a virtual tour of The Medieval Garden to see the garden at its best in early summer.
Or visit the Chichele Garden website to find out more about the garden and its history.