Within the precincts of the Inner Temple lies a three-acre garden, its wide lawns, populated with a rare and unusual collection of trees, sweeping towards the river and bounded by spectacular herbaceous borders. It is a little-known haven of tranquillity and beauty in the heart of London's continuous uproar.
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References to a garden on this site pre-date the founding of the Inn, and the present day lay-out has evolved over the centuries as land was claimed for building, and as the Thames was controlled. The mediaeval records describe an orchard; by the 14th Century there are several mentions of its roses (and Shakespeare used it as a setting for the meeting between Richard Plantagenet and John Beaufort which sparked the Wars of the Roses); a more formal design, with a top terrace and walks, was laid out in 1591, and small modifications continued until the early 18th Century when a major re-configuration took place, imposing the then fashionable 'William and Mary' Dutch style, enclosed and with three rectangular lawns, dotted with trees and dissected by gravel paths. After Bazelgette's construction of the Victoria Embankment, when direct access to the river was lost, it was completely re-shaped over the enlarged area and this remains the skeletal design of the 21st Century garden.
Echoes of this long history can be found in today's garden. The ancient orchard is recognised by a variety of fruit trees, including a large-fruiting walnut, a medlar, a quince and a black mulberry. The Long Border acknowledges the Wars of the Roses. There is a Queen Anne sundial, the decorated iron gates date from c1730, as does the statue of a kneeling blackamore by Van Ost. The plane trees lining the broadwalk were planted in the 1870s and are as resilient to today's traffic pollution as they were to the infamous London smogs.
It was during the Victorian era, when the grime and soot of industry made horticulture a struggle, that the Inner Temple began its tradition as host to some of London's premier flower shows. It was the instigator of an annual show of chrysanthemums - and then in 1888 the Royal Horticultural Society chose the site to stage its Spring Flower Show. They returned each year until 1911 when the shows increasing popularity forced the RHS to find a larger home – the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. In 2008 this historic link with the RHS was revived when they staged their September Floral Celebration in the Garden, attracting thousands of visitors over three days and paeons of praise from both the national and specialist media. A far more detailed narrative of the history is encapsulated in The Great Garden: A History of the Inner Temple Garden from the 12th to the 21st Century which is available from the Inn Store.
Miss Andrea Brunsendorf, a graduate of Kew and UCL, was appointed Head Gardener in 2007, and under her direction a major regeneration of the garden has been undertaken. With the help of her permanent staff of two and a handful of volunteers there has been and continues to be a considerable amount of redesign and new planting.
The High Border subtly changes with each season: in spring it is awash with tulips and forget-me-nots and wallflowers, which give way to alliums, aquilegias and annual poppies before a summer quilt of geraniums, heleniums, dahlias, asters and ornamental grasses, inter-planted with exotic tender plants and annuals, carries colour into the late autumn. The woodland garden shrugs off the gloom of the depressing January days with bright snowdrops and hellebores, and later with spring bulbs and fabulous shade lovers. In May and June the peony garden is painted with the pastel colours of its blousy blooms against rampant wisteria, and in late summer the Long Border is a sea of the exuberant colours of unusual summer bedding, such as zinnias, salvias and cosmos.
The borders on either side of the central steps are devoted to Mediterranean species, which are arranged in a wilder and less formal planting design. The new Rose border, framing either side of the top lawn, are planted up with a fine selection of traditional shrub roses with meandering under-planting of Lady's mantle, catmint and calamintha.
As well as the many horticultural delights and surprises within the garden, it is also home to a variety of wild life, providing nesting sites for many birds, including robins, thrushes, coal-tits and blue-tits. Bees in their hundreds are attracted to the borders, particularly to the Echiums, and a dozen varieties of butterfly can be spotted in summer. A sparrow-hawk occasionally visits from its eyrie in the Oxo Tower, and a heron often perches beside the pond, frustrated by the grille protecting the mature carp beneath from becoming its lunch.
If you would like to volunteer in the Inner Temple Garden or for general enquiries please contact the Garden Team. Ideally potential volunteers have RHS level 2, can commit a day each week to actively pursue a passion for horticulture and are willing to join in whatever task is to hand.
Available in the Treasury Office or visit the Innstore online.