Autumn 3

Michelham Priory gardens

The gardens employ a rich diversity of styles – some historic and others more contemporary.


The Gardens at Michelham have been created with care around original features on the site and are the result of forty years of ‘modern development’. They incorporate recreations of medieval gardens believed to have been present when Michelham functioned as a priory, along with more modern contemporary styles. The 7 acre garden island is encompassed by the longest wet moat in England which is home to a wide range of wildlife, and as such has been designated as an area of natural conservation importance.

The Medieval garden recreations are of areas that would have been particularly important to the priory’s original inhabitants as they would have needed to be largely self-sufficient producing their own fruit, vegetables, and herbs. These garden areas also served other important functions as places for spiritual contemplation and relaxation. The re-creations include-

The Orchard- Apple and pear trees grown in central rows are under planted with wild daffodils, amongst the long grass and wild flowers. Other produce provided from trees growing here include Medlars, Mulberries, Quince, Walnuts, and Sweet Chestnuts.

There are also a number of specimen trees planted on the borders of the Orchard including several varieties of Magnolia, the deciduous conifer Swamp cypress or Taxodium distichum which provides wonderful autumn colour, and the flowering Cornus kousa.

The Physic Garden- A collection of herbs used as ingredients for medicinal use by the priory’s infirmerer (a historical doctor of sorts). All parts of the herb were used

Michelham Priory Physic Garden

Michelham Priory Physic Garden

and made into skin ointments, sedatives, cough mixtures and even air and floor fresheners.

The area includes descriptions of many of the herbs historic and occasionally hair raising applications.

The Cloister Garden– built on the site of the original cloisters, evidence suggests these areas were originally designed for quiet contemplation. Based on a cross the area is divided into four sections of raised beds surrounding small wild flower lawns. The top two sections are dedicated to the display of plants used in medieval pleasure gardening and include red gallica roses, Madonna lilies and Columbines amongst others. The third shows a selection of vegetables available to the medieval gardener, and the last is an example of how the physic garden plants were originally cultivated.

The Cloister garden is bordered by a large oak arbour upon which grape vines have been trained, providing a covered walkway.

Contemporary planting in the garden provides colour and interest throughout the year with many specimen trees and mixed island beds. From the beginning of the season Magnolia and cherry blossom blooms above carpets of fritillarys, daffodils and hellebores. Colour continues right through to the autumn reds of foliage provided by Liquidamber styraciflua and Parrotia persica, towering over several varieties of autumn flowering crocus and plantings of Nerine bowdenii. Garden features include-

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen garden – both beautiful and productive there is always something to see growing here. Sheltered by yew hedge and bordered with box parterre vegetables are grown in four beds around a central arbour covered in Wisteria and espalier apples. All types of vegetable are grown here with varieties and types changing each season.

The area also includes specimens of the Indian bean tree Catalpa bignonioides, a coppiced foxglove tree Paulownia tomentosa, and even a banana, Musa bajoo.

The Herbaceous border – The largest border at Michelham at nearly 50 metres in length is currently under going a period of clearance and replanting. The border provides vibrant colour throughout the summer with the flowers of Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia herbstsonne, Aconitum napellus, Delphinium and Persicaria to name a few against the architectural foliage of grasses like Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, and the ornamental artichoke Cynara cardunculus.

The Bog garden – Host to many moisture loving perennials including the north American skunk cabbage Lychiston americanus, the marsh marigold Caltha palustris which thrives both here and on the sides of the moat, along natives such as meadowsweet Flipendula ulmaria and purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria. Structure is provided by the enormous leaves of Gunnera manicata, and shape by Petasites japonica var giganteus amongst others.

Seasonal displays – The gardens have several beds in which seasonal displays are changed annually to ensure variety and colour is constantly available to our visitors. Annuals and perennials in these displays are grown from seed on site by our dedicated team of garden staff and volunteers.

We offer a number of seasonal garden tours throughout the year, exploring the 7 acres of historic gardens with our Head Gardener. Please view the events page for dates and book in advance by contacting the office on 01323 844224 or