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Christ Church Cathedral in 25 Objects: Cathedral Garden Flowers

Written by John James, posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2020

This week's 25 Objects entry is a little different, technically it's not really one object, but several, the flowers in the Cathedral Garden. The Cathedral Garden is a seldom seen bit of the Cathedral and this week head gardener John James tells us a little bit about the garden and the fascinating selection of flowers that populate its borders.


The Cathedral Garden lies to the north of the cathedral and is a lovely secluded and sheltered spot. Its checkered career dates back to its origin as part of the St Frideswide’s Priory precinct when it was a cemetery, before becoming a canonry garden at the Dissolution in the 1500’s. The raised terrace walk derives from a Tudor bowling alley and more recently the garden featured a tennis court.

Cathedral GardenWhen the last Canon occupant died in 1959, the canonry became student accommodation and the garden fell into disrepair. Following this the garden was taken over by the Friends of the Cathedral who restored it, before being taken back by the Governing Body in the mid 1970’s.

The garden features in Alice in Wonderland, being the garden that Alice (the Dean’s daughter) wasn’t allowed in and the door into the Deanery being the door she wasn’t allowed to go through, the canon at the time wouldn’t allow anyone, even the Dean to pass through his garden even to access the cathedral. The garden is overlooked by a large Horse Chestnut tree that is reportedly the tree that the Cheshire Cat sat in.

Today the long south facing border features plants designed to reflect the medieval history of the location, to represent flowers that would have been familiar to St Frideswide, and plants that acknowledge the Alice connection. Roses, Iris, Columbine, Violas and Vines all feature in the St Frideswide’s plant list and would have been familiar in medieval times. Either side of the Alice Door into the Deanery are the talking flowers from the Alice books – red Roses, Larkspur (Delphinium), Tiger Lilies, Daisies and Violas. See the gallery below for more flowers and a little more about them.


For more information  on this and the other gardens at Christ Church please see the Garden and Meadow blog posts on the Christ Church website

Also frequent updates on work in progress and interesting plants can be accessed by following John's extremely colourful Instagram account @christchurchgardener


John James


John James is the Head Gardener of Christ Church making him responsible for maintaining the college gardens and Christ Church Meadow to the highest possible standard. He very much enjoys the contrast of the highly maintained gardens with the wilder areas of the Meadow and is constantly looking for ways to improve standards of upkeep as well as improving the local environment for all.