Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Hazel: Welcome to the new series - Gardens Through History. I'm Hazel Gardiner, an avid gardener, floral designer and lover of all things horticultural. In this series I'll be exploring some of the most stunning English Heritage garden sites in the country. I'll be delving into their history, meeting the talented teams that care for them and discussing how each garden is kept as faithful to the origins as possible. Coming up in this episode I visit Mount Grace Priory, House and Gardens in North Yorkshire, one of the best preserved monastic gardens in England and a real monks paradise. I also meet the team behind the site's 13 acres of recently restored arts and crafts gardens designed by award-winning gardener, Chris Beardshaw. Hazel: Hi Michael. Michael: Hi Hazel, welcome to Mount Grace Priory. Hazel: So we're standing here in a magnificent cell garden but what is a cell garden? What exactly was it used for? Michael: Well it was used by the monks as part of their living space. This is a Carthusian priory. The cells are hermit cells because they were a hermetic order. There were 23 cells in all and this is their contemplative space and it's also space where they grew stuff for their own use but also they made it beautiful as a kind of paradise - as a prayer to God so to speak. It was a European order founded by Saint Bruno in the 11th century in Chartreux in France. This monastery was one of the last houses founded in Yorkshire. It was founded in 1389 and it was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII and it's the largest preserved Carthusian house in this country, the best preserved. As we can see here the form and structure of this garden is quite formal. Hazel: what was the reason behind laying it out in such a way? Michael: We excavated it in the early 90s and we found it to have this structure so we know that there was a trench round that had hedging plant and we don't know the exact hedging plant but there's only a few available so we chose box. Box was widely used in that period so we know the layout but we don't know what was planted so the planting is speculation. We'll call it speculation but it's from herbals, from contemporary texts. We know what other groups of monks grew in the period so we have a shrewd idea what was grown shall we say. The lovely thing about this garden is it's not very big and they are really gardening a very small space so it's intensive. So if you've got a small pot, you've got a courtyard garden even a window box something like that there are ideas here that you can adopt for your own garden. So it would be great to just have a look at specific varieties that you've got growing here. Hazel: Could you take us around? Michael: We'll start with the the flowering plant here. This plant here is, that the bees are loving at the moment, is pulmonaria - it's lungwort. Lungwort was grown because in the medieval mind there was something called The Doctrine of Signatures - a god given signature to all plants. So God gave clues to the human beings in the plants form what they were used for. So this one's got leaves which are spongy and they've got spots on and so in their mind that reminded them of lungs. They believed that it had some useful qualities in terms of bronchial disease and fortunately it has. The celebrity plant is mandrake or mandragora. They used it in operations as an anaesthetic. It was grown specifically because it had those qualities and as such it's a really useful plant. It's also got a kind of mystical quality. The root looks like a human being and there's the story that if you pull it out it screams. Many people say that to pull it out they tied a dog to the plant, the dog ran off and you hid at a safe distance, the plant screamed and the poor dog died and then you got your mandrake. So it's got a wealth of folklore surrounding it as well so it's a really, really interesting plant. Just in front of you is artemisia absinthium, which is wormwood. It's main use for the monks was as an anthelmintic, which is basically, everyone in the medieval era had worms and what the anthelmintic does is it it paralyses the worms and they're flushed out of the system - so it's basically like a worming tablet. The other interesting thing about wormwood is it's used in a beverage and it's used to this day by the Carthusian order at Chartreux priory in a drink called Green Chartreuse. There's two monks today who make Green Chartreuse. It's a secret recipe and it is kind of like absinthe but it's a bit sweeter and it's an acquired taste should we say. Should you wish to have a go you're more than welcome. Hazel: Michael, I would love to try some - let's go. Michael: It's going to be an experience; do you want me to pour? Hazel: Please do. Hazel: Well, chin chin. Hazel: Well Michael, what can I say? Michael: Yeah...potent. Hazel: Yes! Hazel: Hi Karen. Karen: Hi Hazel. Hazel: So you're the gardener here at Mount Grace. Karen: That's right. Hazel: And as you can see I have a tool in my hand, which I'm very excited about, and we are going to plant some stuff. Karen: We are and we're going to plant mandrake, which you know a little bit about already. And when we've done that we can then plant some henbane which is another weird plant from Mount Grace. The monks, under The Doctrine of Signatures, thought that the seed heads on this look like teeth in a jaw so it was really used for toothache. Hazel: Oh wow. Karen: And it works. Hazel: In terms of improving the soil - did you have to bring in lots of compost or? Karen: Well every year we mulch and obviously before we started doing the replanting we did apply a thick layer of mulch everywhere and because of the terrain here you can't just get a truck across the site so everything has to be carried. There are no proper roadways through the site so generally speaking it's down to the garden team and the volunteers to carry the bags of soil improver around. We have to cover our ears now incase it screams. That's perfect. Hazel: It's actually really decorative when you get this close up. Karen: It's actually a really pretty plant. The slugs love it unfortunately. Sometimes if it's a wet week we might put copper rings and a bit more grit around just to deter the slugs a little bit because they'll demolish it if given the opportunity. So there we go. Hazel: Then we're moving on. Karen: Okay so here's our henbane. Henbane's a strange one. It has to have a period of chilling before the seeds will germinate. Hazel: Oh that's interesting. Karen: It's called stratification and they have amazing flowers. Hazel: Yes so what colour are the flowers? Karen: They're kind of, they're a yellowy mottled black. They look a bit toxic actually. Hazel: And how long will it take for that to flower? Karen: Once they're in and in the sunshine and they'll send up some really good leaves and then I'll usually pinch them out a little bit just to bush them out a bit. We'll plant quite a few to make a good display for the visitors and yeah they'll be flowering say in June time and then then they start to develop the strange seed heads which are really decorative, so we tend to leave them on for a long time so people can admire the strange shape of their teeth. Hazel: Karen, it's been fantastic to meet you. Karen: It's been great, I really enjoyed it. Hazel: It was so good putting something in the soil here. Karen: Yeah it's been really good to meet you. Hazel: The gardens at Mount Grace have been hugely influenced by the arts and crafts movement known for its combination of exuberant planting and formal lines as a reaction against Victorian garden design. To find out more I'm meeting Head Gardener, James Taylor. James: Over the past couple of years we've had a £700,000 project here. We got Chris Beardshaw onboard, the famous Chelsea gardener, who redesigned the whole planting scheme which incorporated about 27,000 bulbs and about 7,500 herbaceous plants. Our top terrace, as we call it, is our typical herbaceous planting which moves down into an alpine terrace and goes down to more of a woodland-themed planting and that's your different zones of the arts and crafts theme really. Hazel: If people wanted to take away something from the gardening here that they could use, whether they've got a small garden or something more grand, what kind of structures could they be inspired by? James: We tend to leave a lot of the plants upright in the winter for their decorative berries or thorny branches. It's quite attractive and popular now. We've collected natural materials - hazel or willow which you'd probably use in a pot. You can just build little structures like fans or supports just to hold tall herbaceous plantings upright. Hazel: So that concludes my tour of Mount Grace Priory. It's been fantastic to meet the whole team here and really delve into all the fantastic gardening techniques. There's a couple of tips I really want you to try at home. The first one is to grow your own herbs. You can try out using chives, oregano, thyme. It's perfect if you've got a windowsill or obviously if you've got a garden you can pop them in there. A second tip is to use the natural planting structures that we've seen dotted around all of the gardens here today. They have a utility purpose but they're also really decorative. I hope that you can join us for our next episode where we'll be exploring another spectacular garden. See you next time!