Welcome to the Bishops Palace Garden, Wells, Somerset which have been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years and this stunning medieval palace and RHS Partner gardens are open for all to enjoy. This in one of our favourite places to go, not only is it beautiful but the space has an atmosphere of tranquility and calm that can be so hard to find. With lots of interesting historical features including parts of the ancient Abbey and Palace which contrasts with modern sculptures. There is a mix of traditional and contemporary garden areas for reflection as well as for fun and exploration but what makes these gardens really special is the feeling of tranquility which comes from being surrounded by water from the Palace moat and the wells inside the gardens walls.
The springs or flowing wells on which the name of the City of Wells is based are found within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace. It is believed that these wells have had sacred significance for 1000s of years, particularly the holy well of St Andrew.
In former times, the water emerging from the wells, from water flowing off the Mendip hills, formed pools which overflowed into a jumble of streams which spread out across the neighbouring land. Now forming a series of man-made pools, the water is channelled into the moat via streams and a waterfall. In times of little rainfall it is possible to see the springs bubbling up in the base of the pools. On a calm day the largest of these pools reflect the south east face of the cathedral, forming a romantic picture that has been captured numerous times over the last two centuries in sketches and photographs.
Rex loves to run around the grounds and even Puzzle the dog is allowed in! We feed the ducks and take our time exploring. It’s great for me to see how different plants have been used and the way in which the volunteers who lovingly tend the garden have used the same plants I have looked into planting in my garden. The allotments are beautifully kept and it’s fascinating to see them develop through the seasons. It gives me hope and inspiration for my own plot.
The Community Garden
The Community Garden is a thriving and vibrant area of the Palace Gardens. Originally the Kitchen Garden, then becoming fallow, it is now home to vegetable, fruit and flower beds and a Victorian-style greenhouse, and provides a space for volunteers and community groups to come and learn new skills.
Look out for our produce on sale outside the shop, or being used on the menu in The Bishop’s Table. As well as our tasty vegetables and fruit, we also grow beautiful flowers which are used for displays in the Palace and sold as bunches in the shop. Flowers are usually available from June-late October.
On one of our visits we walked passed the kitchen garden and where they were digging up and dividing large perennials they had left big piles of leftover clumps to go to a good home! There was a mix of Echinops, Echinacea and Ox Eye Daisy. I didn’t know exactly what I was taking home at the time (as I filled my shopping bag with lots of soil and roots) but it’s now all doing really well in the garden and I can’t wait to see what I’ve actually got and it’s nice to have a small bit of a place Rex and I have had so many lovely memories now growing at home.
The Wells Garden
From the East garden, find the doorway through the walls to cross the moat via the bridge to discover the wells from which the City gets its name. Once described as “a medow (sic) plot” by the traveller John Leland writing in the mid-16th century this area has been transformed into a peaceful space with lawns, flower borders and shady pools containing the water gushing up from the springs.
Walk over the boardwalk and peer down into St Andrew’s Well where you may see the bubbles from the spring emerging at the base of the pool. Here in this secluded and romantic location are shade and damp-loving plants such as astilbe’s and hostas.
Next to the Water Wheel are borders where the choice of plants has been influenced by the damp garden in the well-known Beth Chatto gardens in Essex. Plants such as Iris, Rheum, Candelabra Primulas and Rodgersias are abundant here and the luxurious and diverse foliage creates drama and structure.
The long border winding alongside the biggest pool was originally designed by Mary Keen. Replanted in Spring 2016, much of Mary’s trademark style of mixing small and larger plants together has been intentionally kept whilst at the same time refreshing the border to provide a longer seasonal interest; it is full of herbaceous plants, shrubs and roses.
With the well manicured lawns and precision planting you could feel nervous about the prospect of throwing down a pic nic rug but I can assure you that the gardens are unpretentious and perfect for a family afternoon together or simply to relax in and admire the scenery. A hidden bonus is the ‘Dragons Lair’ a brilliant wooden play space that sits behind the arboretum.
Since 2004 the Arboretum has been managed for wildlife and the development of wild flowers. From early February, there is a succession of snowdrops, primroses, bluebells, violets, cow parsley and many more wild flowers including Bee and Pyramid orchids.
The South Garden
Today it is hard to imagine that in the 17th century this area was once laid out in the style of a formal Dutch style garden with parterres, topiary and a distinctive L-shaped canal; virtually nothing remains of this garden.
In contrast the picturesque and gardenesque style of garden, introduced from the second half of the 1820’s onwards by Bishop Law, is still here to experience. Under James Cross’ careful guidance and taking inspiration from old Victorian prints, the beds and borders around the Great Hall have been redeveloped to evoke the planting schemes of the time.
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
Garden of Reflection
Within this peaceful space you can rest a moment on the sweeping 40ft stone seat and take in the contemporary and restful planting of grasses and perennials, the peaceful glade of eighty-five silver birches underplanted with wildflowers and the striking, sculptural poustinia rising up 9 feet high. This is a space for quietness and contemplation and a guiding principle for this garden was summed up in the biblical text: “in returning and rest you shall be saved and in quietness and trust find strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
This stunning magnolia sits outside the Palace on the front lawn and as you can see looks absolutely stunning. I hope if you are ever in the area you are able to take a wander around these gardens and I hope you have enjoyed finding out a little more about this space which is loved by me and my family.