Image courtesy of Sophie Mutevelian
Image courtesy of Sophie Mutevelian
The Knot Garden
The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury describes her idea behind the design and planting of the Museum's seventeenth century style knot garden which was created in 1981.
Soon after becoming President of the Museum of Garden History in 1977, I was asked by the Museum’s Founder, Mrs Rosmary Nicholson and the Trustees, to design, lay out and plant a memorial garden to the Tradescants in the old churchyard.
I had been living at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire since 1972, where Tradescant had been Head Gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, my husband’s ancestor, from 1610 until Cecil’s death in 1612. Tradescant’s lists of plants bought for Hatfield along with his bills and the evidence of his travels in Spain, France, Italy, Russia and even to the Barbary coast in north Africa, were all to be found in the archives, along with sixteenth and seventeenth century books describing gardens of that age, as well as illustrations of their designs.
After some study of the books and papers, I drew up a plan for the area, which was not large, but presented considerable difficulties, the worst being the graves, many laid flat on the ground, making the laying of the paths a big headache. It was here that a member of the Trust, John Drake, who was not only an architect but a gardener too, brought his skill and knowledge to help me in the laying out the space. One thing was certain, a memorial garden for the Tradescants to hold plants of the seventeenth century, had to be a formal one, with at its heart, a knot, a garden design used at both Hatfield and Cranborne by John The Elder. The knot is a garden peculiarly of the Tudor, Elizabeth and early Stuart times. It had its links with classical antiquity, developing over the centuries, under the influences of war and peace, expanding trade, the venturing abroad of Emperors and kings, and a reviving taste for chivalry and romance, until it reached, in the ages of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, its apogée.
The knot was outlined in box, and to mark the Tradescants, the initial T on each side planted in silvery grey cotton lavender, Santolina chamaecyparissus. The great wall of Lambeth Palace rears up behind a broad border facing south, the wall of the church is on the west, with lower walls on the east, and on the west side, to enclose the garden entirely, I planted a yew hedge. To have the sound of water in the garden, I found a stone wall fountain in Italy and a path leads to where it is mounted on the east wall.
The knot garden has plants of interest for every season, starting with snowdrops, crocus, hepaticas and narcissus, through to scillas, tulips and the fritillaria imperialis, sixteenth and seventeenth century roses, martagon and Madonna lilies, and of course herbs.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, formally opened the garden in 1978, cutting the tape with a pair of seventeenth century scissors loaned, by permission of Sir Roy Strong, from the Victoria and Albert Museum where he was then the Director.
During your visit, pause to look at the great stone tomb of the Tradescants, standing in the garden, planted with the flowers and trees they had collected on their many adventurous and hazardous travels, and read these lines: I hope you feel you are walking in yet another paradise, albeit an earthly one.
“Know stranger as thou pass, beneath this stone
Lye John Tradescant grandsire, father, sone
The last died in his spring, the other two
Lived till they had travelled art and nature thro’
By their choice collections may appear
Of what is rare in land in sea and air
Whilst they (as Homer’s Iliad in a nut)
A world of wonders in one closet shut
These famous Antiquarians that had been
Both gardeners to the Rose and Lily Queen
Transplanted now themselves, sleep here, and when
Angels shall with their trumpets waken men
And fire shall purge the world, these hence shall rise
And change this garden for a Paradise.”