In the Bishop’s Garden

Bishop of Bath and Wells' mitre in stonework over the doorway to the Bishop's Palace, Wells

The Harvest Festival weekend at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells included a tour by the Head Gardener. James Cross has been worked in the gardens since 2004. He described how he and his senior gardener Rob had gradually transformed the gardens with reference to archive material over the years. The initial team of two has now grown and been augmented by an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Lottery funding has also helped to create new garden designs and community projects.

Bishop’s Palace and Moat from inside the garden. A sense of Bruges in England’s smallest city, Wells.
© Karen Andrews

The tour started near the picturesque ruins and modern artworks inside the gatehouse. A magnificent Black Walnut tree stands here.

Starting of the Bishop’s Palace Tour beside artwork and a Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
© Karen Andrews

James Cross began his talk by highlighting some of the best performing plants along the walls of the ruins. He largely chooses plants that thrive in the limestone soil. He looks for contrasting leaf shapes and colours for interest through the seasons.

Bishop Law’s Picturesque Style

As we stood on the South Lawn, James Cross explained how he and his team had tried to recreate the effect of Bishop Law’s picturesque garden of 1820s from archives. The Picturesque-style sought to make a garden reflect art. A view should be worthy of a piece of landscape painting. Bishop Law had the two sides of the already roofless Great Hall demolished, leaving the ruined folly-like tower to fit the garden style of the time. The opposite side of the tower has been planted with exotic species with architectural appeal.

Bishops’ Dahlias

Moving on, we observed the plant choices in the long border. James Cross highlighted plants that perform well with minimum fuss in the garden. This included the Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ with its bright red flowers and dark foliage. The autumn-flowering Bishops’ Dahlias were a highlight of the tour. They stood out against the profuse yellow of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. Dahlias have fallen out of favour with gardeners over the years due to the constant need for staking tall, top-heavy hybrids. The Bishops’ Dahlias are shorter, simpler flowers and loved by pollinators. Various other bishops were represented, although it seemed that Archbishops are levelled to Bishops in the flower bed.

The Archbishops’ Dahlias

Bishop of Bath and Wells

The previous Bishop of Bath and Wells also has Dahlia named after him in the flower bed. The Bishop Peter Price Dahlia appears alongside the Bishop of Leicester and the Bishop of Dover. It seems that the current Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, should also have a Dahlia named after him.

Garden Design Inspiration

The design inspiration for the garden has come from a variety of sources. Stonework designs below a window inspired a sections of the garden.

Low hedging design is inspired by the window’s stonework over the garden. © Karen Andrews
Looking across the garden from the Bishops’ Dahlia flower bed. © Karen Andrews

Plant Recommendations

James Cross drew two other plants to tour visitors’ attention. He recommended Euonymus japonica ‘Jean Hugues’ as alternative to blight-stricken Box for knot gardens, parterres and low hedging. The low hedges in the garden certainly had a shiny, dense, healthy green appearance. The other recommendation was the profuse-flowering Geranium ‘Roxanne’. Roxanne won the RHS public vote for plant of the centenary at the 100th Chelsea Flower Show in 2013. It is also an RHS recommended plant for pollinators.

Roses can be expected to flower well into November in the South West of England.
© Karen Andrews

Cathedral as Borrowed Landscape

Gardeners like to borrow the landscape outside their gardens. The Bishop’s Palace Head Gardener has some of the best views of Wells Cathedral as a backdrop. The autumn colours were only just beginning to appear. James Cross expects the Acer trees to be spectacular this year due to the hot summer.

Autumn colours just beginning to show beside the moat inside the Bishop’s Palace Garden
© Karen Andrews
Magnificent view of Wells Cathedral through the Bishop’s Palace garden trees.
© Karen Andrews
Possibly best garden seat to reflect and view Wells Cathedral. © Karen Andrews
Water bubbles up from underground in the garden after rain in the Mendip Hills. The water can change from ‘a chalk stream to the Amazon in minutes‘. It is controlled via sluice gates and the moat.
© Karen Andrews
Garden design inspired by stained-glass windows. © Karen Andrews
Path leading back to the Cathedral view. © Karen Andrews
The garden’s greenhouse with Wells’ swan stencils and raised beds made from railway sleepers
© Karen Andrews
Volunteers love this part of the garden. Where can you get a better view while you work?
© Karen Andrews
The Community Allotments are a mixture of flowers, fruit and vegetables. © Karen Andrews

Garden Community Life

All of life seems to be represented in the garden: birth, marriage and death. It is said that gardeners always believe in tomorrow. James Cross is already thinking about planting tulip bulbs with volunteers for next spring. Marriage is represented by two scarecrows ‘still digging together after 60 years’ in the community allotments. A heavily-laden crab apple tree commemorates the memory of loved ones. The children’s dragon garden and Nature Ninjas children’s club introduce a new generation to loving the big outdoors and growing plants.

The Chapel display gives thanks for the Somerset Harvest.

2019 Harvest Festival Display of Somerset Produce in the Bishop's Palace Chapel, Wells.
2019 Harvest Festival Display of Somerset Produce in the Bishop’s Palace Chapel
© Karen Andrews

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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