The Development of the Gardens at The Bishop’s Palace
James Cross, the Head Gardener, on how the gardens have developed over recent years. - 14 March 2015
The Bishop’s Palace & Gardens is the site of a stunning medieval Palace – home to the Bishops of Bath & Wells for over 800 years. In the gardens, the wells that give the City of Wells its name can be discovered, along with the famous mute swans that ring a bell when they’re hungry!
The fourteen acres of Palace Gardens were laid out in the Picturesque style by Bishop Law in 1824 with the ruined great hall and cathedral as a beautiful backdrop. The gardens went into decline during the twentieth century with the exception of Bishop Bickersteth who planted the arboretum with help from his friend Sir Harold Hillier.
In 2002 Peter Price became Bishop and one of his jobs was to improve the gardens. I was fortunate enough to become Head Gardener in 2004 and with Rob Hole’s help we started to develop the gardens that had mostly been laid to lawn. It was very exciting looking back at Victorian photographs and even older picturesque sketches, one of the sketches has almost tropical and luxuriantly planted borders which we have tried to recreate around the walls and tower of the south lawn, using plants like Eriobotrya, Tetrapanax and Cercis. Through most of the gardens a romantic theme developed. We did not limit ourselves to any particular style but certain areas of the garden have developed a theme. The South lawn is a mix of Picturesque and Gardenesque, the Phelps garden containing roses and herbaceous perennials is in the English garden style and the new garden of reflection is very contemporary.
My team has grown and we now also have Jane in the gardens, Amanda is in charge of the community garden and Colin is our apprentice. We also have lots of great volunteers which helps us to get even more done. There is plenty to see from magnificent specimen trees like the Black Walnut, Indian Bean tree, one of the best foxglove trees in the country, Gingko, Hop Hornbeam and many more. Our borders range from hot bright colours, shrubs to the more traditional rose filled borders in the Phelps garden which are glorious in June. We have created much diversity whilst still keeping cohesion and a sense of one garden, we hope! From the carpets of snowdrops that fill the arboretum, colourful, diverse and overflowing herbaceous and shrub borders to the bright colours of autumn there is always something to enjoy in the Palace gardens.
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