At Last, The Priory

So that’s that then. The end. Ten years after starting work at The Priory – almost to the day – I’m leaving. I’ve spent about a fifth of my life here: a sobering realisation as I hurtle through time with no brakes.



If this summer has been too fiercely hot and dry for Sussex gardening, 2018 was a good final year nonetheless. After a proper, hard and snowy February there were none of the usual later frosts to which the garden is prone. With non-frozen flower buds the big, old wisteria had more bloom than ever before – though I’ve always thought it a shame that the racemes aren’t longer.


Also in May, the leaning-over-ready-to-fall laburnum was magnificent. Normally its flowering is rather half-hearted and pathetic. A bit sparse – because of those late frosts. But this year she did me proud. I’m not particularly fond of laburnums but I make an exception for this one. Long may she not fall over.


Overall, spring was brilliant for flowers: the honeysuckle on the south side of the house looked and smelt great … though actually it always does and is a perennial joy.



Groups of peonies planted up against the house were big, old plants back in 2008 and still flower lustily. The flowers don’t last long, are way too blousy for me and so ridiculously heavy that they need a supporting steel hoop but I enjoy their arrival anyway.

Viburnum opulus 'Roseum'

Oddly, the Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ on the west lawn, if still looking good in May, wasn’t as smothered with bloom as it so often is.

Pruned apple trees


I’m chuffed with the two apple trees on the north lawn. They were roughly hacked about in the past and responded, as apples will, with a forest of water sprouts (long, thin shoots) from their wounds.

Pruned apple tree

Removing the sprouts and forming a frame of branches over the years has been bloody satisfying. I hope somebody, anybody, will continue to tend these two old dames.

Prunus Serr. Kanzan Rubra

I’ve planted dozens of trees in my time here. Here are two of them – Prunus ‘Kanzan’ flowering in April,

Greehouse path

brightening the path to the greenhouses before the rock border stirs and buttercups flower.

Pear Concorde


I planted ten fruit trees on the meadow. This one is Pear ‘Concorde’ and someone needs to keep an eye on it and its companions too, please.

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata_


A grouping of three Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ on the west lawn has suffered repeated deer attack this year. I had planned on removing the lower, damaged branches to lift the crown, smarten it up and allow for easier mowing, but those nibbled branches do hinder deer from rubbing away the trunk bark with their antlers – something they have already done to one.

Yellow Iris


Yellow flag irises have colonised the ditch between the two ponds and create a golden ribbon between mown lawn and meadow. I like wild interlopers, mostly.



And another wildflower, bluebell, is spreading further each year. In time they will be quite The Priory springtime feature – if they’re spared the strimmer in the years to come.

Narcissus Conspicuus (2)

In the autumn of 2008, I planted hundreds and hundreds of bulbs – amongst them, one hundred Narcissi Conspicuus. A scribble in my notebook of the time has the ominous words, “some mouldy”. I imagine that “some mouldy” is why they never flowered. Each spring I eagerly, fruitlessly looked out for the flowers until, stripped of hope, I gradually forgot.

Narcissus Conspicuus (1)

And then, one day in April this year, a tiny yellow splash caught my eye. I walked across thinking, “Surely not now. Not after all this time.” But there they were. Three hoop petticoat daffodils. Three! How can three tiny yellow flowers fill me with such amazement and joy? Being a silly old sod would be one reason. Nine years is a goodly wait for a flower or three from a hundred mouldy bulbs. If you are of an impatient disposition, you might not want to bother.

Long borders (2)


At the same time, during that first autumn, I planted a hundred Allium Aflatunense in the long borders. What a bargain they were. Reliable, long-lasting flower heads and a steady proliferation of offsets (new bulbs). I’ve dug up and replanted a multiplicity of free bulbs about The Priory and in other gardens too.

Long Borders

Definitely one for the cash-strapped, if patient, gardener. Buy a handful, plant them, enjoy the flowers, wait a couple of years, harvest some bulbs, repeat.

Tree Sugeon (1)

The rotten alder is central

Though there has been little (and often no) money for the garden, I did arrange for a final tree surgeon visit. A leaning, partly hollow alder near the house had concerned me for a couple of years. Last year, a zipper of bracket fungus ran up the trunk and this year there was a noticeable thinning of the canopy. Money or none, it had to be made safe.

Tree Sugeon (3)

Ivan the Tree Surgeon felled the tree without damaging the adjacent rose tunnel, which impressed me no end. After the deed, he told me that much of the trunk was sponge.

Tree Sugeon (2)

Though he’s retiring very soon, Ivan then scampered up into an oak like a young ‘un to cut out several dead branches. I’d worried that if these came down in their own time, they’d smash one of the greenhouses.

Forty-odd years ago as an apprentice, Ivan’s first ever job was at The Priory. Fitting then that one of his last should be here too.

The Priory Oak

February 28th 2018

In one post, a while ago, I wrote: “(The oaks) were the first thing I noticed and the last I shall say good-bye to.”

Time to say goodbye.

The Priory Oak (1)

April this year

In another post about The Priory’s Tulip tree, I said that though I loved the Tulip tree, it wasn’t my favourite. I never did say which of the garden’s trees is my favourite, though you might have guessed.

The Priory Oak (3)

The oak tree on the east lawn isn’t the oldest, it isn’t even the biggest here but my word, it’s the most beautiful, loveliest oak tree I’ve known.

The Priory Oak (2)

X marks the spot

I’ve never thought of the term ‘tree-hugger’ as a pejorative and I happily hug my oak when the mood takes me.

Priory Oaks

And, whilst I’m at it, I’ll hug another one. I might even hug them all. Call me a tree-hugger, I shan’t care.

Priory Ash

The BIG Ash with an added anxious gardener for scale

These massive trees were a big draw for me when applying to work in this secluded corner of Sussex. Looking after them, keeping them safe for the gardener working beneath, admiring them, occasionally hugging them, and planting new ones was a delight during my time here. In the future, they will still need occasional attention but mostly they’ll be just fine without my hugs.



As will all of the old shrubs which flowered before, during and, I’m sure, after my time.

Broughton Bride clematis (2)

Clematis ‘Broughton Bride’

I’ve added so many plants to the garden, so many, and most of these will hopefully continue to thrive too.  Or else not.

Young manadrin ducks

Young Mandarins – July

As will the wildlife, of course; whether or not I’m around to watch. Kingfisher will still dart across the ponds, deer will come and go as they please, rabbit will tear through the wire netting, buzzard and the new arrival, red kite, will circle high overhead and the midday hoot of the tawny owl will still startle. Or so I hope. If the mallards haven’t raised any ducklings in recent years, then mandarin ducks succeeded in 2018. There’s always room for new life at The Priory.

Rhododendron (2)

Sadly, there are no plans yet for a replacement gardener, though someone will take over the lawn-mowing.  And gosh, but I’m very happy to hand over the mowers to younger hands. I’ve mowed enough.

The Priory

I thought you might like to see this aerial photo of the house and grounds. It was taken fifteen or twenty years ago and though I’ve studied it countless times, I still pore over it to see how the garden has changed, and how it hasn’t. The west pond is clearly visible with the six large weeping willows not large at all. The Despondent, bless her, sits upon the water – probably bearing a happier name. By the Land-rover, one of the two original beech arches is still being trained and there is a glimpse of the old, long-gone greenhouse, garden top right. My oak is above and slightly to the right of the house. The straight path-to-nowhere – without the Verbena bonariensis beds – is very obvious. And there were many hot mowing days when I could have made good use of that paddling pool.

Please shut the gate

I seem to have something in my eye, so I’ll leave The Priory now, closing the gate behind me. I used to think that I would work here until the day I retire. But outlook shifts, plans change, opportunities arise and another part of this island tugs me westward. It is the right time for me to go.

Margaret the Farmer is one of my greatest discoveries of the past ten years, and when I visit her in the years to come, and after a cup of tea and a hearty gossip, we’ll walk down through the fields with her sprocker spaniels, and peer over or climb the fence into the garden.

I’ll let you know what we see.


Jim, the boy and I are leaving our Sussex home next week. We’ll be rootless for a while until we complete on our new house in the Cotswolds. We’re putting all of our stuff into storage and thanks to the kindness of family and friends, we shall be flitting between spare beds until our new home is ready. When we do eventually land and settle, I’ll post again. But I may be some time.

Thank you to everyone who has followed and shared my interest, my love for The Priory.

117 thoughts on “At Last, The Priory

  1. Pingback: A Selection of Paths | The Anxious Gardener | Earth 365

  2. I have come to your blog very late but when I looked through your past favourite posts cam upon this touching farewell to a much loved friend (albeit a garden).

    Having moved 23 years ago, into a wonderful house full of character and features dating back hundreds of years, many of which had been covered up but not removed, I am sure that the future holds so much joy for you.

    The ‘field’ at Franks Place has become my garden. It took many years before I could make much of an impression (we needed to save money to make the house watertight and more damp-proof first – the new rafters and slates for the roof only went on 5 years ago! No more leaky drips through some ceilings in heavy downpours with strong winds!)

    Many changes have taken place in the garden since. I love it and since retiring spend most of my time in it when not making sculpture. Neither my wife nor I could ever think of leaving this dear old place; the thought of the inevitable time that comes to us all that will take us away from it fills me with sadness. The thought of anyone ripping the heart out of the place to ‘up-date it’ fills me with dread. The garden too could fall foul of a purchaser who sees the potential for ‘development’ whereas we have never ,and will never countenance the idea, even having been told we could do it and move to another lovely old house and have money to spare. People often make the mistake that a home is ‘just a house you currently reside in’. Nothing could be further from the truth and so i wish you every happiness in your home and your future garden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Rob.

      We have done up so many houses over the past 20 years – 6 I think, plus a flat and I can never pass any of them without taking a bit of a gander. I see trees and hedges I planted grown to maturity which is lovely and original wooden window frames which we sanded, filled and repainted ripped out and replaced with UPVC. So, some good, some bad.

      We have no plans to move from our current house – and the thought of ‘doing up’ another house fills us with dread. But who knows what will happen? I hope you never have to leave your current home. If it’s of any solace a couple of my new clients are in their 90s and if they now need my help to maintain their gardens, they certainly have no plans on moving out to somewhere more ‘manageable.’

      All the best



  3. Pingback: In a dream I strolled barefoot in a quiet garden – MJL Stories

  4. Wonderful farewell post. Lump in throat stuff. Good luck with the new home. The Cotswolds are wonderful and plenty of gardening good weather. A tree hugger needs to make no excuses – keep hugging. I will finally buy the mower you recommended, next spring and if ok, continue to throw the odd desperate plant query your way. Our oak is growing and doing well after-all. I think there comes a point in life when we all need a change however heart wrenching it is. It rejuvenates the soul. Even now in France, I still keep in touch with everyone back home – the blog is a godsend in that area too and looking forward to reading about your new adventure. Happy box unpacking when you settle. All the best, Judi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Judi. Making a complete break and starting afresh is liberating. We are in our new house now and though living here in pretty squalid conditions is tough, it’s exciting too. I’ve barely looked at the garden yet but there’s no rush – and a huge wasp nest in the garden shed means the end of the garden is best avoided till the first frosts! Hope the mower recommendation works out!?! D


  5. I shall miss you terribly as will my sheep and cows. Who am I going to turn to the next time I have a heavily pregnant, cast ewe? Who will accompany her up to the farm, cuddling her smelly wet body to stop her jumping out of the tractor bucket? Who will help me douse a day-old calf with fly strike and covered in maggots? What a delightful picture I paint of the farm! Who will look after that lovely garden? You’re one in a million Dave and such an eloquent diarist. Please don’t lose touch. Margaret

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fat chance you’ll be rid of me so easily. I shan’t lose touch. Helping you out at the farm occasionally and just enjoying being a part of it all has been such a highlight for me. If a certain someone has made the past few years less happy, you have more than made up for it. And for that I thank you ‘Margaret’. I’ll see you soon, Dxxx


  6. “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”
    Luna Lovegood
    David, will you post a picture of the first thing you fall in love with at your new home or surrounding?
    I’m really curious!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 😭😭😭 what can I say, you’ve been an enormous inspiration to me David and I’m sure many others, and I can’t thank you enough for that. The very best of wishes for the future – I can’t wait to find out what you’ll do next – take your time – but at the same time please don’t be gone for too long. We ALL love Yew! (couldn’t resist a reference)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Argh I’ve just discovered your blog! A bit late. I wish you well on moving to the Cotswolds, so many exciting garden opportunities to explore there. Best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you for sharing your gardening life at the Priory. Your posts have been a source of great pleasure and inspiration and have helped this rural Australian gardener, living half a world away and facing yet another drought, to keep going. May your new life and home be as special.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I still find it quite amazing that my jottings are read all over the worlds, including South Africa, the US and rural Australia. Thanks for giving me a truly international jolt. It’s a great feeling. All the very best, Dave


  10. Good luck with the move to the Cotswolds, is the new house an artex free zone? Have only found you recently and throughly enjoyed your blog, I recently read the older posts about your present home and move there, very amusing, made me laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha! Nope, it is not. Grrrr. Not only are many of the ceilings stippled, they are also coated a deep mahogany – 44 years of nicotine from a 60-a-day smoker. Joy. One day quite soon, I’ll get round to writing the follow up to THAT old post. Honest. D

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Looking forward to welcoming you here in the west. I was wondering where you’d got to – of course plans never quite go to plan do they? A lovely farewell post – I hope The Priory gets another gardener it deserves as much as you were in your tenure.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Nicely done, a graceful farewell.
    Most of us pass through places, and either leave them unchanged, or a bit worse for wear.
    A real satisfaction in leaving a place more beautiful than you found it. cheers, RPT

    Liked by 2 people

  13. David….. Thank you for the last look at The Priory and your lovely description of the pictures you shared with us. I am going to miss your blog and do hope to be included in your future efforts. Best of luck in your new home in Cotswold. Happy and safe travels until you are once again settled in a proper place. I am only sorry I came to your blog so late…. but, rejoice in your move to new adventures.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Christina, yep I hope my new job will be a good one but as I have no idea yet what I shall be doing – your guess is as good as mine. And the house move is a long-held ambition but only possible now because the boy is well, a man. D

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Well that was a beautiful last Priory blog, Dave. Oh this spring and summer with its luxurious gifts and heat-scares. Thank for for all the pleasure you’ve given me over the last few years. Now to a blog from some venture – I expect it will have something to do with plants, even if you need to give your limbs a rest from gardening. Good luck!
    and love from Ursula

    Liked by 2 people

  15. What a fantastic end! Congratualtions on your time at The Priory, and all the hard work you put into it. I would say it paid off.
    Thank you for sharing it all with us, and I wish you good luck in this new chapter. I look forward to learning where it takes you.
    All the best David!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I imagine it must feel very strange now – leaving familiar routines and people. But there will be new things to see and do and there are decent folk all over this country – you just have to find them! The quality of what you do- whether it’s writing or gardening or whatever else – will sustain you. Best of luck!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a lovely comment, Peter. It has been a wrench saying goodbye to all our friends here after 23 years in Sussex. And leaving the South Downs and the sea is difficult. But yes, I shall soon be approaching complete strangers in Stroud asking them to be my new best friend. That’s gotta work. D


  17. Many thanks for a lovely reflection of happy days at the Priory. Looking forward hearing about your exciting times ahead. Good luck with the move.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jennifer. It was difficult deciding what to put into this post as there is so much and so many memories. The poor old meadow and tropical border didn’t get a look in, D


  18. The Priory will miss the care and love and innovation you have showered upon it, but I’m sure your legacy will live on as you venture in to new things. I hope there will be trees to hug. Look forward to reading about your new Cotswold based adventures!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I think the first comment is the most eloquent. Whilst everyone has enjoyed reading about The Priory it is the gardener’s thoughts that have engaged us. I look forward to the sequel.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. So you are off, then. I know the bittersweet feeling, wishing you strength and joy to move through it.
    We all look forward to reading about your next adventures, David. I, and probably many of your readers, don’t visit your blog for priory updates but for the knowledgeable, wise, and humorous person who shows us around it. Look forward to reading you again soon

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Oh whoa you break you life into fifths? It isn’t gojng anywhere you can always visit. Life is a sand painting. Surrender isn’t mantra. The beauty is within you, blooming in every step! The best is yet to come!

    Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Jenny, nope, I don’t measure out my life. I was illustrating just what a big chunk of my life has been spent in this garden and hopefully illustrating what a wrench it is to leave it. Visiting the garden won’t be the same as spending 3 or 4 days a week there whatever the season, whatever the weather, But I get your point. And trust me, that ain’t the worst comment ever 🙂 Dave


  22. I will miss your tales from the gardens, and from your walks. Thank you for sharing. Good luck to you all for the move, and keep in touch with your news about the new life. XXX

    Liked by 2 people

  23. You gave it all you had and made a fine go of it. Your work speaks for itself. I am sure you will be missed when all you did becomes blatantly obvious in your absence.
    I wish you well on your next adventure!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I’m getting all teary, and I’ve only ever loved the Priory vicariously and from afar. Thank you for showing us that lovely place through your eyes, Dave. Hope the brief stretch of couch-surfing and plant-lugging goes quickly and (relatively) painlessly. xStacy

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I am relatively new to your blog, but I must say, this posting provided me with your long-time life at The Priory & made me a bit sad to be leaving. Well written & thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Thank you for sharing your life at the Priory with us. You take splendid pictures and write so well. We’ll all look forward to seeing what adventures you have in the future. I appreciate your making life more enjoyable as I endure the sweltering heat of South Carolina. Your lush green pictures help keep me cooler.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think we had a taste of SC heat here this summer, Ann. Truly sweltering – I really struggled to work through it and the garden struggled. Lush green is more what I’m used to! D


  27. 💐🌸💮🏵️ im sad to see you leave I love you guys… But I know know an admire the way you are taking your life in your direction as hard as that may prove… 🌷

    Liked by 2 people

  28. All the best to you & yours are on your venture!
    I have immensely enjoyed your posts and your photos.
    Thank you.
    Donna McKittrick, Victoria, B.C. Canada

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Your work at the Priory have always been a source of inspiration…and envy as I struggle to garden on the Prairies of Western Canada. Thank you so much! I look forward to the next garden, long walks and photographswith anticipation. Carole Nelson, Saskatchewan, Canada

    Liked by 2 people

  30. I’ve loved sharing your Priory experiences over the years and am sad that those days are now over. However, I am very much looking forward to sharing your next adventure, you have to let go of an old dream in order to have a new one. So be bold, be brave and come back and see us soon. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Thank you for these latest (not last) gorgeous photos. I have always enjoyed your blog. Don’t stop!

    Best wishes to you in your next venture. Continue to live in beauty – and to write about it, beautifully.

    Jeanne Mills
    San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not intending to stop, Jeanne, if unsure what direction the blog will take. Our new house, if not everybody’s cup of tea aesthetically, is in a smashing location. I’ll share when I can. D


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