14 acres of tranquil gardens in the heart of medieval Wells
Hidden within the ancient ramparts and protected by the moat, 14 acres of stunning, tranquil gardens to visit await you in the heart of the City of Wells, Somerset.
Wander along and around the many herbaceous borders, savour the scent of roses in the parterre, admire the beautiful views of the gardens, moat and further afield from the top of the ramparts, meander through the Arboretum, admire the reflection of Wells Cathedral in one of the well pools, explore what is growing in the Community Garden and, finally, take a moment to recharge your batteries in the contemporary Garden of Reflection.
There is evidence that these gardens existed here even before Bishop Jocelyn began work on building the Palace c.1220. Over the years the gardens have changed as successive bishops have added their legacy and today these gardens in Somerset have Grade II listed garden status due to their special historic nature.
In 2016, these fine gardens in Somerset were acknowledged by the Royal Horticultural Society, by being made a “Partner Garden”. This status is awarded to gardens of “outstanding and exceptionally high standards of planting and design” – a great achievement for the team working under head gardener James Cross.
Entry is free most Fridays to RHS members with starred cards (*). This offer is not valid on certain event days – see HERE for details.
Included in your admission ticket is a choice of daily guided tours of the Palace & Gardens.
Visit 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, it is a perfect space to wander around and to pick your spot for a picnic with family, friends and children.
Visit the East Garden
This is the place to enjoy the scent of roses and appreciate the huge diversity of hardy perennials flowering from summer and well into the Autumn.
Here you can find the parterre which still has at its centre the original urn dating from the former parterre laid out in the mid-1800s; the ‘hot border’ is a riot of vibrant colours and is structured with tall, bright Crocosmia lucifer, Achillea ‘Cloth of Gold’ at the back, separated with blue Echinops and Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ that flower into September. 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.
In 2019 a new knot garden was created under the oriel window. The knot garden loosely reflects a planting style of the 17th Century, and the portcullis crest in the oriel window next to it. The grasses planted within would not have been used years ago, but include the exciting contrast of Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’ and libertia (golden grass), as well as traditional and medicinal plants like sage, lavender and santolina
Visit 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 astilbes 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.
Visit the Quiet Garden
Walk 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 and 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.
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)
Visit 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.
If you are interested in volunteering in the garden or bringing a community group to the garden please contact James Cross on 01749 988111
The Arboretum was designed by Sir Harold Hillier for Bishop Bickersteth and created in 1977 in commemoration of HM the Queen’s 25th Jubilee. It replaced part of the old kitchen gardens. There are many fine trees here including the highly scented, weeping, silver lime (Tilia Petiolaris), a foxglove tree (Paulownia Tomentosa), the hop hornbeam (Ostrya Carpinofolia) and Persian Ironwood (Perrotia Persica) 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.
This is a lovely place for children and adults to explore, picnic and play in – and the “Dragon’s Lair” is an interactive play space for primary and pre-primary aged children within these Gardens in Somerset.