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