A Week of Flowers: Day Six

For a second year Cathy of Words and Herbs is hosting a Week of Flowers, inviting everyone to share some “extra colour and cheer” by posting one flowery photo a day, for a week.

Calendula officinalis / Pot Marigold / Common Marigold (November 17 2021)

A great excuse for me to post some of the recent colour found in the sub-tropical gardens close to home.

Garden Portrait: The Bishop’s Palace Gardens, Wells

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.

The Gatehouse

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.

“Children’s Wings” from the exhibition “A Light Shining in Darkness” by Edgar Phillips.

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.

“White Wings” – the set of white wings directly represents the swans of Wells and their purity. From the exhibition “A Light Shining in Darkness” by Edgar Phillips

Swing Seat (by Sitting Spiritually) outside the Apple Store

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.

Reflection of Wells Cathedral in the large Well Pool

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.”

~ Antonio Machado, 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.

Jo’s Monday Walks


Garden Portrait: The Chalice Well & Gardens

A place of sanctity,
healing and peace,
to soothe the souls
and revive the spirits.

The Chalice Well is among the best known and most loved holy wells in Britain. The Well and the surrounding gardens are a ‘Living Sanctuary’. In the past it was known as the ‘Red Spring’ or ‘Blood Spring’ on account of the red iron deposits in the water and there are many legends attributed to its waters.

As we were visiting Glastonbury on one of our days out during our late spring holiday in Somerset I wanted to visit this garden on the way to the Tor.  Neither the OH nor I are in the remotest religious, but the thought of a tranquil garden which has been designed with connecting us to nature and the source of life (water) appealed to me.

The gardens may be used for private access for meditations, personal reflections, renewal of vows, remembrance and naming ceremonies out of hours (before 10 am and after 6 pm). There are rules for public visiting that include no smoking, no alcohol, switching off mobiles and remaining fully clothed!

It is probably the most unusual garden that I have visited and maybe one I would have enjoyed more in my younger, hippyish days. I’m afraid I am a lot more cynical now. In fact a group of young ladies who commandeered the various sites during my visit really annoyed me as they carried out their chanting and lighting candles. This did not add to my sense of tranquillity or reflection.

The garden’s landscape naturally rises up from the open space of the lower lawns to the source of the waters in the well head at the top. The idea is that as you follow the water you sense and experience its flow and energy. The cascade, the rill and the pools invite the water to move and flow in ways that delight, inform, calm or provoke inner reflection. Or at least that is what the booklet says. The reality is a small garden with an iron-laden spring running through it.

The well has been associated with healing properties, and after going through what we have these past two years we certainly could do with some of those so I was happy to take a few sips of the iron rich water from the Lion’s Head drinking fountain, which is the only place in the garden safe to drink the water from.  In fact it is best taken in a homeopathic approach:

‘seven drops in a tumbler of water, fruit juice or milk
in times of illness’

It was a hot day, the first of the week and maybe the heat was making me tetchy, maybe I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ but I was frustrated that many of the interesting parts of this garden were teeming with people who had no intention of moving. I appreciate the fact that many come to this garden to meditate and absorb the serenity, but not those who simply get in the way chatting to each other or those not allowing anyone else through to the attractions.

The saving grace was that there are plenty of seats on which to rest and the open meadow at the top of the garden which felt a lot less claustrophobic and which is a perfect spot to have a picnic. Much of the planting is in restful greens and my favourite purples which also helped, but it is not a garden for gardeners. In all honesty I have to conclude that this particular garden left me feeling rather deflated.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ve found more touching, spiritual places without the hype. If you believe in the sacredness of the water, if you like meditating with other people, or you want to see other people that do, then it’s for you.

But for me this seems to be one of those places that capitalizes on, indeed monetizes, myth and legend. I felt more peace and tranquillity in the grounds of the nearby Abbey or the Bishop’s Palace Gardens in Wells.

Jo’s Monday Walks

Garden Portrait: Hestercombe Edwardian Formal Garden

When I visit a garden I do so for several reasons – to have a walk in a beautiful place and to admire the planting schemes. When I was without a garden for ten years I used to dream of what I would do when I eventually had one again, filling folders with photos of borders and flowers for inspiration. So when we stopped at Hestercombe although we headed into the landscape garden first to have a good long walk around the grounds,  what I was mostly looking forward to was the Edwardian garden designed by one of my favourite garden designers.

Hestercombe’s Edwardian Garden, designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, was completed in 1908 and is world famous.  The restoration of the gardens began in the 1970s and was completed by 1980.

There is a large Dutch garden at the east end of the site, with intermingled perennials such as China Rose, fuchsia, and dwarf lavender. Daisy strewn steps led us up  whilst cherubs played their instruments above the terrace and on the urns in the garden.

The beautiful Orangery is now often used for weddings and was indeed being set up for one on our visit. They had a perfect day for it.

We continued through into the East Rill terrace through pillars and walls cloaked in clematis and fragrant wisteria.

Here we were faced with the view of the Great Plat – a great sunken parterre laid out with geometric borders edged with stone and ringed with luxuriant bergenia.This formal garden epitomises Lutyens’ classical style with Jekyll’s planting scheme softening the hard lines. It is stunning.

The East and West Rill terraces frame this garden each with a 43-metre rill that runs from a hemispherical dipping pool fed by a water spout to a rectangular water tank at the southern end of the garden.

One of the hemispherical dipping pools

A 70m long oak Pergola runs the length of the Plat and encloses the garden at the bottom allowing it to remain linked to and be part of the surrounding countryside.

Doorways and archways through the walls lead you up and down steps to the various parts of the garden.

And at the bottom is the Pergola, a wonderful walkway full of roses and clematis and those magnificent views.

West Rill Terrace and Pergola

Much of the Formal Garden is built of the grey siltstone: the paving is of morte slate, and also the walling, which is laid in narrow courses with lime mortar raked well back to give the impression of drystone walling.

Great Plat

A third terrace, the Grey Walk, borders the northern edge of the Plat.

The House, the Victorian Terrace and the West Rill hemispherical dipping pool

Leaving the pergola we continued along the West Rill towards the Victorian terrace and the house, which affords the best views over the garden and those distant Blackdown hills.

Victorian Terrace

The magnificent Daisy Steps were designed by Lutyens to link the formal garden and the earlier Georgian Landscape Garden.

Daisy Steps

And now we were back at the entrance and ready for a decent lunch in the Stables courtyard before continuing on our journey home.

Jo’s Monday Walk

Garden Portrait: Hestercombe Landscape Garden Walk

On our return to Cornwall from Somerset in late spring we decided to avoid the M5 as it was the first weekend of the school half term and it would be teeming with traffic heading for Devon and Cornwall. Instead we opted for the scenic route along the Atlantic Highway, through Bideford, Barnstaple and Bude and Camelford. I had booked a stopover at the Hestercombe House and Gardens near Taunton so we could have a stretch of the legs followed by lunch before embarking on that longer route. We have seen the sign for these gardens many times on our way up and down the M5 but never visited them. Today seemed like a good time. And the weather was in our favour too which was lucky as we had to pre-book our visit.

The landscape garden was created by Coplestone Warre Bampflyde in the 1750s and offers a series of carefully composed views each designed to look like a painting and inspired by the classical views of Italy.

The Octagon Summerhouse marks the start of this walk and provides a view up the valley.

As you meander around the garden you will pass temples, lakes and waterfalls. The routes are fairly easy to navigate although there are some steep and winding ups and downs which are not suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. An all ability-access route is in place around the Pear Pond and the formal garden.

After a very wet May everything in this area was very green.

The Gothic Alcove marks the highest point of the garden from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Vale of Taunton which for some reason I failed to photograph.

We enjoyed our stroll up to Sibyl’s Temple along the one way system and admired the views before making our way back down to the Pear Pond (named because of its shape I imagine rather than there being any actual pear trees) where we came across ducks and swans.

Pear Pond

From the Mill pond we entered through the outbuildings into the Edwardian Formal Gardens, but more of that later.

Jo’s Monday Walk