The weather forecast for our week away at the end of May 2021 (the first in over two years) didn’t bode well. May had been a cold and wet month up until then and it looked likely to continue that way until the end of the week. Never mind. We finally had a change of scenery and another cathedral city to explore. In September 2016 we travelled up the east coast and stopped off to visit the wonderful cathedrals of Norwich, Lincoln and Durham.
Wells in Somerset is an ancient cathedral city in the picturesque district of Mendip, set in the heart of rural Somerset. It is known as England’s smallest city and named after the springs (or wells) which rise within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace.
Bishop Jocelyn began work on building the Palace c.1220. Over the years the gardens have changed as successive bishops (60) have added their legacy and today these gardens in Somerset have Grade II listed garden status due to their special historic nature. And naturally a garden I was keen to visit.
The Palace is surrounded by a moat though the gardens extend across the moat into an Arboretum, Allotments and a Community Garden, the Quiet Garden and reflections of Wells Cathedral in one of the Well Pools.
When you enter the gardens the first area is the South Garden, once laid out in the style of a formal Dutch garden with parterres, topiary and an L-shaped canal. In the early 19th century it was transformed into a picturesque and gardenesque style (where specimen plants were left to grow into their own unique natural forms), characterised by wide open lawns, specimen trees (such as Mulberry, Tulip and Indian Bean trees), flamboyant climbers, bold and luxuriant planting of shrubs and perennials and with the backdrop of the ruins of the Great Hall and surrounded by the ramparts.
From these ramparts you can take in the views of the surrounding countryside and even the Glastonbury Tor.
The East Garden contains the perennial planting in a formal parterre style. In the centre is the original urn dating from the former parterre laid out in the mid-1800s.
Beneath the oriel window a new knot garden was created in 2019. There are also Irish Yews planted in memory of the twelve ‘Apostle Yews’ which stood sentinel in the 19th century parterre. The dahlia beds feature the wonderful Bishop Dahlias.
Outside the Palace is a small courtyard, but there is no entrance into the Palace here. You need to exit the gardens and enter from opposite the Croquet Lawn.
From the East Garden there is a doorway leading through the walls to a bridge that crosses the moat leading to the wells from which the city gets its name.
Here you find damp-loving plants such as Astilbes and Hostas, giant Gunnera and plants such as Iris, Rheum, Candelabra Primulas and Rodgersias that create dramatic structure.
We were pleased to see a swan family underneath the bridge. The Bishop’s swans learned to ring a bell for food back in the 1870s and the tradition still continues today, though we didn’t have that pleasure.
Behind high yew hedges beyond the well pools and past a colour garden representing the stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Wells Cathedral (though the tulips were long finished)
you will discover The Garden of Reflection. In contrast to the rest of the Palace gardens this is a modern and contemporary garden. It was opened in 2013, replacing a former derelict space and kitchen gardens, and was the inspiration of Bishop Peter Price and his wife Dee. He wanted to offer people a quiet, calm reflective space embraced by the Palace gardens and the nearby cathedral.
The sweeping curved stone seat is carved with the inscription:
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the path, and nothing more; Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking, by walking one makes the path and upon glancing back one sees the path that will never be trod again. Wanderer, there is no path – Only wakes upon the sea.”
~ Campos de Castilla
There are 85 silver birch trees planted here underplanted with wildflowers, grasses and perennials.
From here you can see into the Community Gardens and Allotments home to vegetable, fruit and flower beds and a Victorian-style greenhouse that provides a space for volunteers and community groups to come and learn new skills.
As you can see from these photos it was a dull day with the threat of rain hanging over us. We managed to avoid the worst of the weather by heading into the Cathedral itself, but came back to the gardens (the ticket allows you to come and go throughout the day) later on in the afternoon when the sun was finally shining to sit on one of these benches in the South Garden and enjoy a cup of coffee from the Bishop’s Table café.
35 thoughts on “Garden Portrait: The Bishop’s Palace Gardens, Wells”
Been a few years since I walked round, clearly I need to rectify that!
Dodgy weather, but a much more tranquil space than the Chalice Wells.
I’m always intrigued where all the crowds go in Wells as they never seem to turn up in the gardens
Such a beautiful place, Jude! Character oozing from every wall. I can imagine the pleasure this place gave you. Reminds me a little of the Bishop’s gardens in Norwich but they are much smaller. Love the childrens wings sculptue and the wall clad in wisteria. Croquet, you say? Go on, then! Many thanks for sharing this beauty. I spent half a sopping wet day in Wells long ago, and have no memory of the gardens as we were mostly indoors. A coffee shop, I expect.
We had a few of those days too! 😂 Found a lovely little deli.
It is a lovely garden and Wells is a lovely city. Just my sort of size.
Beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing
You are most welcome Sadje.
Wow! That looks like a trip we should take at some point. Thank you for all these glorious photos and the introduction to places I haven’t visited. 🙂
Wells is a lovely city. I’ll write about the cathedral on the travel blog shortly.
I’ll look forward to reading about it.😊
Thank you, Jude, for this Monday morning garden tour (it’s Monday morning here with my laundry just under way). What a gorgeous way to begin my work week by strolling and meandering among the parterres and along the walkways. Never mind the cloudiness and dampness; those conditions are just right for garden tours, if you ask me. Somehow the colors appear more brilliant, not washed out by bright sunliight.
You are probably right about the colours. Plus the weather meant that the gardens were quiet which I like.
Great images, Jude
Thanks Sue, I think the lack of direct sun probably helped with the flower photography.
Yes, it would
Even with the dull skies, this looks like a beautiful place to visit.
When you are on holiday you make an effort to get out even when the weather isn’t great – unusual for it to be so wet and cold in May though.
We’ve been watching Michael Portillo walking along the coast of Cornwall, on TV. He was at Trebah Gardens last night.
We haven’t been to Trebah this year as they are not open all week and you still have to prebook. It is one of my favourite gardens though.
I remembered seeing it on your blog. He was there towards the end of last year and the parts he showed were stunning. We’ve been enjoying the scenery as he’s journeyed along the coast – some places we went to and others we would like to visit one day.
We watched this program a few months ago, his walk on the south coastal path? It was good, but he missed a lot out. I think every TV presenter has been in Cornwall this year! 😂
I suppose there’s only so much you can fit into an hour episode. It made me want to pack my bags and pop over!
How much impact the architecture, the art and the trees make – all of them are imposing in their way.
I looked at my photos again after reading your comment. And yes, I agree, the architecture does make quite a contribution to the compositions of the images. I wonder now whether that was deliberate on my part or because they are such an integral part of the gardens? I don’t seem to have taken any close-up photos of the plants which is unusual for me.
Thank you for another delightful tour of this beautiful place. I like the wing sculptures amongst he old stone walls and garden beds.
The wings are beautiful. it is quite a special garden.