St John’s Jerusalem, Sutton-at-Hone

No wonder Sir Stephen Tallents and his wife loved St John’s Jerusalem so much they gave it to the National Trust, it is a real sanctuary of peace and loveliness. Walking round, it is hard not to feel its history as home to the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem since 1199.

Although obviously both the house and the garden have been transformed over time, the garden remains surrounded by a square moat, fed by the River Darent, and where ‘The Hospitallers’ would fish. There’s something healing about the garden, and it’s perhaps not surprising to find out that the Order, after decades of violent battles and defeats, was revived with the remit of caring for the sick, becoming eventually the St John’s Ambulance Association.

But of course, I’m being romantic. Because way before that time, the house had moved into private ownership. Or am I? How hard is it NOT to imagine other worlds when you see trees like this:

And I loved the story told to me by artist and gardener, Will Gould about the little drop of blood to be found in every head of Queen Anne’s Lace – apparently it’s from her finger when she was spinning. Can you see the little dot of red:

I had to look closely because, do you know, I have never noticed that before. And then, suddenly everywhere I looked I saw new and beautiful things:

..that made me wonder if time had stopped still.

Ridiculous? Maybe. But it’s afternoons like the one I spent at St John’s Jerusalem that make me feel very lucky we have so many beautiful gardens to visit. We need to be taken out of ourselves and our busyness sometimes.

Here’s my poem:

Green Thoughts*

Maybe better to fight than to be corseted
into bedding displays, bruised
for a passing scent, deadheaded;
is this why thorns protect tender buds,

an uprooted mandrake screams, and Eve
took her chance, leaving paradise before Adam
discovered pruning? But then you come here,
St Johns Jerusalem, and that door in the tree

takes you to another world, everywhere you look
time is gentled, a butterfly stays long enough
to fold its wings, a petal to fall, and even a drop
of blood is kissed safe in its nest of Lace.

*Green Thoughts is the title of Sir Stephen Tallent’s autobiography which begins with St John’s Jerusalem, which, he says, would never have been built “if on a July day 850 years ago, the survivors of the First Crusade had not captured Jerusalem”.

And here’s Will reading a piece from the book about the moat and sitting near the moat, clever eh?

One thought on “St John’s Jerusalem, Sutton-at-Hone

  1. sarah I love your website and I am really looking forwrd to seeing you and Francis on Saturday…..it may be fraudulent pretences for our garden is nothing like as good as many here…..but it is fading nicely into autumn and it will be a pleasuret to show it to you…Do arrive before it gets dark Rupert Nabarro

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