The Porter's Garden

The Porter's Garden > Hidden garden

The hidden garden

In the 201st year since the Battle of Trafalgar, discover the hidden garden in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, which built and repaired the navy’s ships

Tucked away in a corner of the Historic Dockyard is a hidden treasure that pre-dates the Battle of Trafalgar – The Porter’s Garden.

This garden is in the oldest part of the dockyard and is shown on maps dating from 1754. The Porter’s job was ‘To be constantly attending at the Gate to open & Shut the same for all Comers & Goers into, & out his Maties Yard.’ He had to guard the dockyard and its contents, preventing 'no Person to pass out of the Dock Gates with great Coats, large Trousers or any other outer dress that can conceal stores of any kind.'

He could also sell beer in the summertime, ‘such as is fitt to quench the parties thirst that drinks thereof, & to enable him the better to perform his Labour, & not such as will distemper them’.

But it was the garden that provided useful medicinal herbs and vegetables for use on-board ship, as Coordinator Dr Ann Coats explains, “Herbs would have been very important for cleaning, food and everyday ailments.  Lavender and Soapwort were used for laundry, Parsley and Rosemary for flavouring, whereas Fennel was good for counteracting wind !”


In the post war period the garden fell into a variety uses (including housing temporary police cells) until in 1998 the Friends Committee was founded. Following a restoration programme by volunteers the Porter’s Garden opened to the public in 2001.

Today the garden stays true to its roots and uses plants available in the eighteenth century. Pauline Powell, “We’ve tried to create an example of what an 18th century garden would have been like. Many of the florist’s flowers we see today in flower shops, such as auriculas, tulips and pinks date from this period.”

Naval voyages brought back exotic plants such as bottlebrush, agapanthus and Leptospermum, family myrtaceae, a plant from New Zealand.

The garden today

Today you can see a whole host of plants, many of which have nautical connections including Armeria maritima (sea thrift), Clematis viticella “Mary Rose”. As part of Portsmouth’s Trafalgar 200 celebrations, on Monday 21 March 2005 at noon (on the same day and time that the battle of Trafalgar began in October 1805), Dr Colin White of the Royal Naval Museum opened the chequered yellow and black Nelson Border. The black and yellow violas represented Admiral Nelson’s particular style of painting the gun port lids of his ships black, against a yellow ochre stripe, to distinguish them from enemy ships in dense battle smoke.

There is plenty of other wildlife too – nesting blackbirds, visiting foxes, butterflies and bees and even a recently a crab that had scuttled well off course! In 2006 a colony of Red Mason bees will be installed in their own home to aid pollination.

The environment is an important concern too. Before planting the volunteers collected and dug in loads of well-rotted horse manure. Then the Friends purchased compost created by the Council from leaf mould and tree clippings, but now the garden creates most of its own compost by recycling green waste clippings and plants. No insecticides are been used apart from beer traps for slugs. Some slugs are carefully relocated! The garden recently released 200 extra volunteers in the shape of earth worms into the beds.  Human volunteers dug 5 inch holes and “planted” 8 to10 worms in each.  It is hoped that these will aerate and improve the soil quality.

The garden is supported by the Onyx Environmental Trust, who recently funded a scheme to create seating in the garden.  With this grant the Friends of the Porter’s Garden were able to commission sculptor Roger Stephens to create three seats made from granite re-cycled from Portsmouth Dockyard. The three seats represent the midship sections from Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860. Hampshire Gardens Trust also supported the Sculptured seating project.

Picture taken 26 June 2005
The garden, 26 June 2005. Picture Pauline Powell

The garden is also supported by Portsmouth City Council’s Children’s Fund, which donated £900 towards the Knot Garden and children’s activities. Two Portsmouth schools submitted drawings for a knot garden and the two winning designs were incorporated into the final garden.

Volunteers needed!

The Porter’s Garden is always looking for new volunteers to help out. You don’t need to be a gardening expert and need only come along only as frequently as you are able.  There is plenty to do even at this time of the year.

There are volunteer mornings each Wednesday and there is an open weekend the first weekend of every month.


Where to find us

You can find the Porter’s Garden by entering the Historic Dockyard through Victory Gate on the Hard and turning immediately right. The garden is located behind the statue of Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Entrance is free and the garden is open every day except Christmas Day:

 - April to October - 10.00am to 5.30pm; and
 - November to March - 10.00am to 5.00pm.

see also

Kay Gilmore
February 2006

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The Friends of the Porter's Garden
Page last updated: 2 February 2006
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