• Gordon MacLellan

In a Monastery Garden

Tucked away just outside of the city centre of Manchester is a beautiful Monastery….

There was magic in the air when the Franciscans first came to Gorton in 1861 with visions of a great friary at the heart of the community. Architect Edward Pugin’s inspiration led to astonishing tales of sacred geometry that we still wonder at today. The biggest story though, is of the building’s miraculous survival against all odds. Come and be amazed by this wonderful tale of restoration. (introduction from Monastery website)

A corner of the Cloister Garden

As well as being centres of learning and contemplation, Monasteries were places of healing where gardens and and their plants were treasured both for their medicinal value and for the peace they brought. The garden at Gorton has been restored.

Gill Harbach, a longterm volunteer at the Monastery, has given us the post below... “Two years ago I re-designed the Cloister Garden at the Monastery and completely cleared it of old overgrown shrubs and unsuitable plants and re-planted it with roses, herbs and other beautiful plants and bulbs.

I am passionate about greening cities and I was part of the consultation process for Manchester’s Future Greening Policy.”

Celebrating Nature in the City

a woodcut from Gerard's Herbal, 1636, a manual for early herbalists

In the inner city of Manchester, built by the Franciscans in the 1860s, is the Victorian friary of St Francis, now called “The Monastery”. It is no longer a church but is still a sacred place and in the midst of the site, safely surrounded by the old red brick buildings, is a place of peace and reflection, the Cloister garden. It is traditionally designed in four quarters with lawns and flower borders tucked up against the cloister walls.


St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Ecology, still resides in this urban garden, his love for the natural world & the peace that he found in it can be tangibly felt here. Gardens are hard to find in a city and they can prove a welcome place to sit and reflect. Here there is shade for the hot sunny days, roses and herbs scenting the city air and a sacred border dedicated to flowers which commemorate Our Lady. It can be difficult, at times, to stay in tune with the seasons but this garden has always something which marks the time passing, the spring bulbs peeping through lawn, the vibrant yellow laburnum flowers cascading onto the ground, the birth of the new pigeons that for generations have roosted above the cloister door or the first blooms in bleak winter of the hellebore, the Christmas rose.


At present, the Monastery is closed to visitors but Nature is still moving through her cycles and when we come out of lockdown the garden will show us what she been busy getting on with in our absence. I am sure there will be many surprises and also sadness for events missed such as the vibrant pink cherry blossom whirling through the air on those blustery Spring days. Nature will still continue to thrive, even in the City.

CelebrationEarth! closing notes

What does your garden offer you?

Do you grow herbs for healing, food and flavour?

Flowers for their beauty, bumblebees and butterflies?

A place for contemplation.

A place for football?


  • To Gill Harbach for her words


  • Monastery Garden from Monastery website

  • All other images are " plants for a monastery garden" with photos c. G MacLellan

  • Gerard Herbal: scanned

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