Cloistered away next to the historic Priory Church of St John, this fragrant garden is part of the Museum of the Order of St John, which tells the 900 year-old story of the Knights of St John. As members of an Order of the church, the Knights also had medical and military roles, setting up hospitals in the Holy Land and Europe, while fighting in defence of Christendom. Today, the modern Order of St John is best known for establishing the St John Ambulance.
The garden’s planting scheme was devised by London-based designer Alison Wear, to fit in around the existing hard-landscaping, and is packed with references to the Order’s long peregrination around Europe, with silver-leaved Mediterranean sun-seekers like Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem sage) and medicinal herbs such as Hypericum calycinum (St John’s Wort), Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese or Jerusalem cross), and a white rose, Rosa ‘St John’. Aromatic herbs such as wormwood, thyme, oregano, fennel and lavender, further recall the Knights' medical endeavours, while creating a soothingly aromatic environment for the visitor.
Working within the constraints of the layout, Alison designed for colour and texture rather than harmony or sophistication, using citrus and olive trees in strategically placed tubs to break up the formal setting. Winter interest is provided by aromatic evergreens such as Daphne odora, bay and box. When it came to planting in April 2011, Alison found that the soil was "nothing but dust", so an ‘enormous amount’ of compost and manure was applied to the narrow beds. The strategy is working and with museum staff undertaking to water the fledgling plants in the absence of an irrigation system, the garden already appears remarkably well-established.
Museum of the Order of St John
St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, EC1M 4DA
www.museumstjohn.org.uk T: 020 7324 4005
Admission free (small donation suggested for tours)
Alison Wear Garden Design