Lincoln Medieval Bishops' Palace

The Garden at Lincoln Medieval Bishops' Palace

The garden is a contemporary yet peaceful space elevated high above Lincoln city where you feel that you are soaring above the landscape along with the peregrine falcons who have nested nearby. Lincoln Medieval Bishop's Palace is the only English Heritage property to have a vineyard, which is run with help from the local community.

Visiting the Garden

You arrive in the garden through the labyrinth of the ruined Bishops' Palace, emerging from the darkness of a cold stone room with a vaulted ceiling, down a flight of ancient steps, and then through a gap in the thick Medieval wall into the light. Because it's on a south-facing slope you first see the garden from above.

At the back of the terrace is a buttressed Roman wall which, in summer, is self-seeded with red Valerian ( Centranthus ruber) - highly appropriate as this tough, opportunistic plant gets its name from an ancient Roman family, the Valerii.

From the viewing platform your eye immediately picks out nine tightly clipped hornbeam ( Carpinus betulus) piercing the air like the spires of the Cathedral. Narrow weathered brick paths at precise geometric angles running between the trees echo the intricacy of the ribs supporting the Cathedral's ceiling. Each tree is sunk into a circlet of polished stainless steel, like the architectural bosses where the ribs intersect.

If this sounds overly complicated it's not. You're reminded of the elegant workmanship of medieval craftsmen, such as the silversmiths who made the chalices and communion plates and the stonemasons who sent ambitiously tall towers into the air.

The gardens link the land's use through the centuries to the Cathedral nearby
The gardens link the land's use through the centuries to the Cathedral nearby

A Quiet Place for Reflection

On descending the viewing platform onto the grass below it feels as if you are in an outdoor church. Clipped yews with recesses for benches look like the stalls of the cathedral choir. Other echoes of medieval Christianity are carefully woven into the garden.

One of the shining steel disks encircling the hornbeam has a labyrinth etched into it, a reference to one of the earliest Christian symbols of man's search for God. Another disk has curling vine leaves upon it pointing both backwards to the earliest inhabitants of Lincoln, the Romans who brought vines from Italy, and also forwards to the vineyard planted on the lower terrace. The vines were a gift from the city's twin town in Germany, Neustadt-an-der-Weinstrasse in 1972.

Although this garden is mainly an elegant 'green thought in a green shade' the restrained planting around the edge alludes to the fact that it was once a working garden. Purple lavender with its medicinal qualities, tall spires of Acanthus - a plant that recurs again and again in medieval sculpture and wood carving - and the striking blood red climbing Rosa 'Guinee' enliven this subtle, restful space without overpowering it.

The contemporary Heritage Garden at Lincoln Bishop's Palace
Steel disks that encircle the hornbeam trees have etchings important to the story of Lincoln

Vinyard

Lincoln Medieval Bishop's Palace has the only official Vineyard within all English Heritage properties and Lincoln city. The vines were donated by Naustradt in Germany and the three varieties - Ortega, Muller Thurgau and Madelaine Sullvaina - are all white grape from the north side of the Rhine. When it was first planted in 1972 it was the most northerly vineyard in Britain, and it is now one of three.

'The Vineyard Community Project', put together early 2013 to help with the care of the vineyard, now involves a volunteer group from the local community, alongside a partnership with a local vineyard to help with the harvesting and the production of wine at the end of the season. The vineyard is an historical asset which has now been tamed into a functioning vineyard. This forgotten gem has become a flourishing natural environment that has not only encouraged the wildlife of the area to stop by, but also many new visitors.

The only English Heritage property with a vineyard. It grows three varieties of white grape
The only English Heritage property with a vineyard. It grows three varieties of white grape

History of the Garden

In 1329 Bishop Burghesh acquired land alongside the Palace to build a garden. Although the plans have been lost it's assumed that vegetables, fruit and flowers would have been grown here like numerous ecclesiastical gardens of the medieval period.

Writings about the garden surface over the next few hundred years with tantalising details of how it once might have looked. In 1647, despite the Palace having been severely damaged in the English Civil War, there were still "high mounted longe walks on one side, set with fruit trees, and....a green courte, bowling greene, orchard, a garden."

In the 19th century, illustrations show there was a kitchen garden but again records were lost so it's hard to know in any detail what would have been grown here. By the end of the 20th century, the site was looking rather sorry with a derelict pre-fabricated bungalow, once the home of the Palace's custodian, obscuring the view.

In 2000 plans were drawn up to create a garden here once again, a small contemplative green space overlooking the rolling plain of Lincolnshire where the winds come straight from Siberia.

Landscape architect, Mark Anthony Walker has carefully linked the land's use as a garden through the centuries to the Cathedral nearby to create a contemporary yet peaceful space.

For a public garden it's extremely small, just 30 metres by 18 metres, but because of its elevated position above the city it feels paradoxically both intimate and expansive. It's possible to stand and watch the peregrine falcons, which have recently started nesting on the spires of the Cathedral, hunt over the plain and feel that you too are soaring above the landscape.

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