A place of quietness and beauty

PUBLISHED: 16:58 25 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:05 20 February 2013

The gardens of the Bishop's Palace

The gardens of the Bishop's Palace

This summer you can visit the public and private gardens at Hereford Cathedral. Here, internationally-renowned painter and potter Kathy Priddis, wife of the Bishop of Hereford, The Right Reverend Anthony Priddis, takes us on a tour of the glorious...

The Bishop's Palace includes not just the private home and office of the Bishop of Hereford but also the Great Hall and other function rooms (available for hire), and the diocesan offices. Entry is through the Tudor archway into a secluded courtyard where there is a Victorian coach house and stables, now used as garages, and also four rented cottages. The whole site, including the gardens, covers about three and a half acres and is located on the banks of the river Wye near Hereford city centre. Someone looking across the river from Bishop's Meadow, long since donated to the city, would have stunning views of the riverside gardens, with their willows, alders and spring bulbs, and would see the familiar landmark of the cathedral tower rising above.

Visitors discover that the gardens of the Palace fall naturally into 'walks' or 'rooms', each with its own name, character and atmosphere. Closest to the river is the Green Garden, a small woodland of hazel, field maple and wild pear trees, an ancient wild cherry tree, an equally-ancient yew tree and a double Willow Walk, planted three years ago with willow cuttings to provide root-support for the constantly eroding riverbank. At one point there are steps down to the river - or up, if you are a swan! - and above these is an un-pollarded willow graced with a vast climbing rose, Rambling Rector. This is the 'floodplain' of the Lower Garden, with several specimen trees, and the site of the old fruit frame, now grassed over and planted with rhododendron, which thrive in spite of regular flooding, and a small copse of silver birch.

From here you go through a wrought-iron arch in a three-year-old beech hedge into The Orchard Garden, where old apple, plum and pear trees provide shade and a medley of heady scents from the double Herbaceous Walk, with its wonderful Ena Harkness roses and central Herb Garden. Above this is the Kitchen Garden with its numerous vegetable beds providing year-round produce for the house and its many visitors. This is the working side of the garden: two greenhouses, tractor and potting sheds.

In the old days they knew where to build and the house was built on a mound. It has never flooded, though in 1960 the water came within a few inches of the Long Walk, which stretches from one end of the garden to the other and is on the site of an ancient defensive wall - in those days the other side of the river marked the border with Wales...! This long path houses two Terrace beds, two Millennium beds, planted to celebrate the new century, and from here a flight of Victorian stone steps, decorated with pots of red geranium, take the visitor up into the more formal gardens of the Palace.

Here are stately trees of great age shading a large rectangular lawn, extensive enough to give hospitality to the Three Choirs Festival marquee, the annual ArtFest exhibition, numerous clergy functions, receptions and other seasonal events. Here also is the Rose Garden, bordered with lavender, and behind a nearby fruiting quince, the Meriel Wild Garden of blue and pink geranium, spring bulbs, nicandra and a small acer. Across the grassy path, under the stately trees, is a recently-planted shaded Shrubbery, and beyond is the Cloister Garden, not an enclosed area as the name suggests, but a long partially-shaded shrubbery bordering the Cloister walls.

The old wall of the ancient Chapter House borders the top end of the lawn, and so this Chapter Garden is planted similarly to the Cloister garden, a medley of flowering shrubs, some rare and some more common. Here also is the Pilgrim Garden, partly-named after the roses which climb its small pergola, partly because this path leads towards St John's gate into the cathedral, and partly because pilgrims-visitors-tourists in the cathedral cafeteria can view the garden from here. In the middle of this small bed is an 11th Century stone 'rose', a remnant of the original ancient palace built on this site.

The glory of the garden has to be the Garden Chapel, the ruins of a two-storey century chapel dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria and St Mary Magdalene and built by Robert De Losinga in the 11th century but destroyed during the Civil War. It is enclosed on three sides: first, by an original high wall abutting the cathedral, secondly, by a medieval wall hung with Boston ivy, and thirdly, by the stained glass windowed wall of a diocesan office. Newly-planted and re-landscaped in 2004, it was rededicated by Bishop Anthony in 2005 in the presence of its volunteer-gardeners, its furniture makers, and Sir Thomas and Lady Dunne.

Furniture makers? Yes, the benches, the candelabra, the altar cross, and a notice board in the same wood describing the themes behind the making of the furniture, were all built by pupils from Hereford Cathedral School, using wood from an ancient copper beech tree which had lain on the riverbank for about 13 years. In 2004 it had to be removed as it had developed fungus which was sending out dangerous spores, and soon afterwards John Clark set the example by building the altar.

The Chapel Garden is a place of peace, regularly used by office staff and passing visitors from the twice-weekly Secret Garden Tours, and frequently used by groups arriving for Quiet Days or Retreats. Nearby, across the gravel path is the new Sanctuary Garden, so named because it is built on the site nearest the sanctuary of the old chapel. Benches abound in the Palace gardens but this garden only has one chair, providing peace and contemplation for a single individual in the shade of a weeping ash. The pergola is Ledbury oak, and cuttings of wisteria sinensis have been planted to provide continuity of form and to grace the oak frame Chapel arches in the future.

The gardens are beautiful throughout the year - in the springtime - with the bulbs: daffodils, tulips and snowdrops, the flowering shrubs, and the river high and flowing with brown floodwater; in summer, with the lush greenery of stately trees and a myriad of colours and scents; in autumn with the colours of leaf-fall and in winter the garden with its many areas of stone and woodwork looks wonderful under snow.

The work of a bishop is fairly relentless. During the course of one year we can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we have been able to actually sit in the garden, although Bishop Anthony will try and take his visitors there to talk business on some occasions, when the weather and the west wind allows.

We've had a succession of gardeners Anna, who came a few months ago, is the star. Previously, John Willshaw got it thoroughly under control, and I did the annual seed-gathering, cuttings and some pruning, while Anthony joined me in some weeding and the higher pruning whenever possible. Now Anna and I envision the garden for the season together, then she takes over, sowing, watering and sustaining the small plants while still managing to do the rest of the work with apparent ease and a sunny smile.
We think of ourselves not as owners but stewards, of both the house and the gardens. Gardens are not fixed and static; things grow too big and need pruning or transplanting, other things die. Because of the heritage passed on to us by previous occupants, we try to nurture what is already here but we've also tried to re-envision the garden as a place of quietness and beauty within a busy city that is not entirely private and 'with-held' but accessible to all who come.

The Cathedral Gardens include a number of private gardens within the area of Hereford Cathedral: the Chapter House Garden, the Cloister Garden, the Vicars Choral garden, the Dean's Garden and the Bishop's Palace Garden.

The last three are private and not normally open to the public except for the Secret Gardens Tour, which take place at 2.30pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays in June, July and August.

Tickets: Cathedral office or Cathedral shop, tel: 01432 374210.
For group tours contact the Visits Office,
tel: 01432 374202.
You might just have time to catch the National Gardens Scheme open day at The Cathedral Gardens, including The Bishop's Garden, on Friday, June 26, with regular tours from 11am to 3.45pm (book on 01342 374202). There will be a chance to view some of Kathy Priddis's paintings and pottery at knock-down prices during the day.

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