Whittington’s Lost Pleasure Garden

At Whittington Castle in Shropshire is a rather romantic ruin, lovingly cared for by the local community, rather than some well-funded national charity with bags of money and politically correct criteria to enthusiastically apply. To its rear is a rather bland looking field, about which an information board advises was once a ‘pleasure garden’. Built by Fulk and Eleanor Fitzwarine in the 1320s, it contained a herber- raised beds for basil and thyme as well as screens to shield the garden from the reeks and grubby noises of a typical medieval castle. It must have provided a welcome respite for the ladies and aesthetically minded menfolk.


I was struck by the name ‘pleasure garden’. Not all gardens offer pleasure. To the professional horticulturalist, gardens are sources of income, from which the Lord’s day must offer respite. To the small-holder, a garden is idle land, a fruitless waste of productivity. To the busy person, a garden demands precious time mowing grass, digging weeds, watering tubs, sweeping leaves. Perhaps this is why so many rip up shrubs and pave lawns. In other words, gardens cause no pleasure to some. 

Yet part of the pleasure of having a nice garden is seeing, and sometimes tasting, the fruit of our labour. I suspect the good Lady Fitzwarine did little of the gardening. Admiring flowers and trees is one thing; seeing them grow from seed or bulb is another level of happiness. Designing where a plant sits within a border, matching by height and colour to its future neighbours, is a delight I rarely perfect. Gardening and gardens are indeed sources of personal pleasure, for it is one of the purposes for which we were made:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15.

Living in a Victorian terrace with little land either side, my opportunities to fulfil Adam’s primal call are not easily fulfilled. Still, not a room in the house has fewer than half a dozen houseplants. Some flower, some grow, some climb. I suspect that heaven will not be unlike Eden. Revelation 22 reads:

In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

I cannot explain what this means. What I do know, is that in both the beautifully maintained gardens of stately homes, or the simple tubs and pots of my own backyard, I feel not far away from my eternal home. Whittington’s pleasure garden, like Eden, is long lost, but hope there is, for ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him’.

These pictures I took in September of flowers growing by the chapel. Pleasure indeed.