Greyfriars Garden and Chapel, Canterbury

This must be one of the quietest gardens in Canterbury. Although it’s just off the High Street, it’s hard to find and accessed through an unprepossessing courtyard off Stour Street.


But so well worth a visit.


It was originally an island site, and home to the first Franciscan monastery in England (I’ve written about the Franciscan gardens here. They are only open on certain days, unlike Greyfriars which is open free to the general public). I don’t know if it was just me, but I definitely feel that I’ve stepped onto an island of tranquility here.


The  chapel dates from the 13th century, and there’s some debate still apparently as to its original use. It may have been an infirmary. Amazing though to think that it was built during the time of St Francis of Assisi.


The garden is in two parts, separated by the river. In one, there is a path cut round a circle of wildflowers…


… and a narrow riverside strip divides this one from the other…


… which seems to carry the memory of a parterre, or infirmary garden with wild roses and scented honeysuckle now growing up the walls…


Not surprisingly there are benches to remember happy times spent here…


Last year, as part of the Wise Words Festival, I set up a little ‘stall’ to help people write postcards to strangers. They could take home postcards with messages that meant something to them too. It was intended as a quiet chance for communication and reflection, that seemed ideally suited to the atmosphere of the garden…


.. and so the poem I’ve written for Greyfriars follows this theme (I wrote it on a bench looking at the river, here):


Letter to a Stranger

Last night I dreamt of a blue plate

piled high with words shaped like strawberries *

and this morning I followed the path

round a green bowl filled with wildflowers.

How I long to walk in circles,

popping words into the open mouths

of passers by. Trust. Kind. You. Flourish.

Look, I want to say,

so much has gone before us,

so much will happen next,

not every day needs a destination

or even to make sense

to have a good meaning.

So much beauty everywhere.


* This dream came because I’d read Edwin Morgan’s Strawberries at the Wise Words Feast of Words. It felt it fitted with the garden too!

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