History

Abbey gardens

College Garden, hidden within the walls of the Abbey precincts, has been in cultivation for over 900 years.

In monastic times, it was used to grow food and medicinal herbs for the occupants of the Abbey. There was an orchard, as well as fishponds, beehives, and a separate plot for growing vegetables. 

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Summer flowers in College Garden

But the garden wasn't simply somewhere to grow food. It was also a place of beauty, neatly laid out and planted with roses and lilies. The garden was under the supervision of the Abbey's Infirmarer and tended by a Head Gardener and two under-gardeners. They were monks and were expected to attend daily services – although they were asked to leave their muddy boots and capes outside. Today, the garden is a peaceful place to relax during your visit to the Abbey and it can also be booked for events and garden parties in the summer.

The oldest surviving feature is the high stone wall built in 1376. The 18th century dormitory for Westminster School, completed by the Earl of Burlington, is on the west side. The London plane trees were planted in the 1850s. Modern features include a small rose garden and a water jet fountain.

You can also enjoy our two smaller gardens: the 18th century Little Cloister Garden, with its Victorian fountain and borders of scented plants which was originally an area set aside for recuperation after illness, and the Garth, a lawn bordered by the cloisters, which was used by the monks for quiet reflection. From the Little Cloister the small private garden within the ruins of the 12th century St Catherine's chapel can be viewed.

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Little Cloister fountain

 

Further reading

The Gardens of Westminster Abbey by Jan Pancheri

"Westminster Abbey: the Infirmarer's Garden" by John Harvey in Garden History Autumn 1992 (with lists of plants grown)


For the gardener

The Westminster Abbey Shop sells a range of items inspired by our 900-year-old gardens, including books, homewares and seeds selected by the Abbey's Head Gardener.

Shop garden range