Last Saturday, a large group of members escaped the hustle and bustle of Canterbury and went on a private tour of the Cathedral Gardens. Head Gardener, Richard Oostenbrink, was an excellent guide, explaining everything about the garden as we went round. He told us about the trees and some very unusual magnolias, of which he hopes to have a National Collection in the future. We heard the stories associated with some of the trees, passed down through the generations but not always supported by more modern evidence, and in some cases he was able to tell us about the nursery they had come from.

We went to the Memorial Garden, a large, walled and open area with a very special atmosphere, the new arid garden in the ruins of the infirmary with agaves, a beautiful old olive tree and other exotics, and the herb garden built where a bomb hit during World War II and only some of the pillars still remain. Here they are trying to extend the range of plants and are using new technology, a scanning app on mobile phones, to allow visitors to link to lots more information.

The Deanery Garden has many facets, wide lawns with trees, borders with exotics among the roses and more usual plants, ferns and damp-loving plants, vegetable and herb gardens, an orchard and a paved area with pots.

The Memorial Garden
The Deanery Garden

And all of this set in such amazing and historical surroundings with ancient buildings on every side reminding us of the enormous events that have taken place there. But Richard was keen to point out that the cathedral is not stuck in the past. He is not restricted in any way over the plants he uses and isn’t limited to any particular historical period. There is a huge amount of building work being undertaken, just as there has been over the centuries, and Richard is looking forward to planting in areas as they become available when the work is finished – some of us got quite excited at the possibilities when he told of his plans.

It was a great privilege  to be part of this memorable visit so thank you to all those who made it possible.

When I got home and began reflecting on the visit, it occurred to me, not for the first time I might add, that no matter what HPS event I attend, whether it’s a lecture, garden visit or just a chat with fellow members, I always learn something. It might be something new about a plant I know well, a plant I have never seen before or something that really makes me think.

On this occasion I saw some black rose hips. Black rose hips? I have never seen them before! As usual now, Google came to the rescue and I think it must have been Rosa spinosissima (syn R. pimpinellifolia), which is descibed as having purple-black fruits. I think I have seen this plant at Sissinghurst but in flower not fruit.

Another plant caught my eye and I had to squeeze between two minibuses to see it. Again I had no idea what it was but, on this occasion, another member helped me out with an identification, Dodonaea. The hopbush, Dodonaea viscosa, is a highly variable evergreen shrub widespread across the southern hemisphere. One cultivated variety develops purple leaves when grown in direct light and I think this is the one I saw, D. viscosa ‘Purpurea’. It is available here and, although not reliably hardy, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

A potted Pinus patula was remarked on by several members. I have a very similar specimen but mine doesn’t look so good. I took note and with a bit of judicious pruning, a new pot and some TLC I plan to get mine up to scratch.

And while I was at it I thought I’d check on the derivation of the word canter – it is short for Canterbury pace or Canterbury gallop, from the supposed easy pace of medieval pilgrims to Canterbury. I like that!

See all the photos in the gallery below.

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