This Week in the Garden

5 February 2024

Although the gardens remain closed to the public whilst the essential wall repairs are inprogress we have been busy, working on winter jobs that will mean there is plenty to seelater on in the year.

800 Years of history

2024 is an important year for the Franciscan Gardens, marking 800 years since the arrival of the original Franciscan Friars who settled on the little marshy “island” that is now our wildflower meadow. Records show that in medieval monasteries burials were usually marked by the planting of a fruit tree and so, for the 800th anniversary, we have planted 12 new apple trees in the meadow. They are some of the oldest varieties available, harking back to the kinds of apples the friars would have grown. We have Leathercoat Russet, Flower of Kent, Coeur de Boeuf, Kentish Quarrenden, Gravenstein, Blenheim Orange, Warner’s King and Sturmer Pippin. They are all grafted onto vigorous rootstock so that in the next few years they’ll put on growth to rise above the meadow flowers and will eventually create a beautiful, natural orchard among the wildflowers, bringing the delight of apple blossom in spring and fruit in autumn.


One major job that had to be tackled in January was the renovation-come-rescue of the enormous wisteria. We don’t know exactly how old it is, but the best guess is probably 70 – 80 years. Sadly the sheer thickness of many of the long horizontal branches meant that when the gales last autumn dislodged it from the wall it could no longer support its own weight and fell forwards. No amount of propping would be able to re-establish it safely and so the decision was made to cut it back hard. Pruning such a dramatic and beautiful feature plant with a chainsaw is never easy, but we had little choice. We found two strongly rooted runners with good vertical growth plus the original stem (more like a tree trunk) and so now have three sections, cut back to about five feet high and with stems we hope we can train laterally as they grow. The good news is that you can now see the beauty of the old wall behind with it’s mix of medieval stone and Tudor brick, and it can now be properly repaired and conserved. We know it might take a couple of years for the wisteria to recover from the shock of the cut-back but are hoping that there will be some new strong growth that we can train and prune to get it flowering again as soon as possible.

The weather at the end of January was wonderful, dry and sunny. We were able to finish off pruning all the roses and have been gently weeding the borders. It’s a very rewarding job, done carefully to avoid disturbing the soil too much. As you lift off the thick layer of dry leaves you reveal the emerging shoots of the crocus, snowdrops, aconites and daffodils and can see where little seedlings of honesty, larkspur, feverfew and love-in-a mist and are growing in clusters. One of the joys of this time of year (as well as the delicate nodding snowdrops) are the tiny, vivid purple flowers of the wild violets. You have to get down close to see them among the clumps of foliage and when you are nose to nose you can smell their distinctive perfume. Glorious.

The Gardeners

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