Please change the inappropriate planting design in Salisbury Cathedral cloister "garden"

Is the planting in Salisbury Cathedral Cloister designed to hide the 'ugly' medieval stonework in England's largest cloister 'garden'?

Is the planting in Salisbury Cathedral Cloister designed to hide the 'ugly' medieval stonework in England's largest cloister 'garden'?

It takes one’s breath away. How can the managers of Salisbury Cathedral Cloister be so misguided in their approach to planting design? Do they really want to give one of the masterpieces of medieval  European landscape architecture (1280) the character of a Victorian vicarage? The apparent aim is to hide the floral tracery of arcades behind a shrubbery, and to hide those ugly stone columns with some nice green tanalized wooden posts – even the galvanized wire does not make them beautiful. Perhaps the trouble began when some past prelate had the idea of being buried in the cloister, making his successors think the place was a boneyard. Ugh. I wish the Church of England could resolve its problems with women priests, gay priests and planting design. The solutions are obvious and I would give them my advice with free and tolerant humility. Prima facie, I suggest (1) leave the cedars, despite their historical inaccuracy (2) remove the shrubbery (3) manage the grass as even more of a flowery mead than its present condition, (4) perhaps, have an annual design for the layout of mown paths in the millefiori.

(See yesterday’s post on the social use of cloister garths)

The use of cloister courts and garths for memorial plaques is fairly common in England. It can be compared to memorial plaques inside cathedrals and, of course, to the tomb gardens of Egypt, China, India and elsewhere. But it does not feel right and I think the Buddha had the right attitude when he asked for his grave to be unmarked. It was a sign of humility. Memorials smack of ostentation. But placing an engraved stone on a wall or floor is preferable to memorial stones in grass: they are often unsightly; they diminish the vegetated area; they are impure.

5 thoughts on “Please change the inappropriate planting design in Salisbury Cathedral cloister "garden"

  1. Edward Probert

    I am pleased to reassure you that Salisbury Cathedral is well on the case with this. I chair its Landscape Committee and we expressed concerns about this some months ago, and have since been working out ways to more satisfactory arrangements. Things always move slowly around cathedrals, partly because of chronic financial stringency, and also because much of our work is delivered by volunteers, whose feelings and goodwill deserve to be respected. I am hopeful that the above post by Mr Turner will be irrelevant within the reasonably near future.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you for your comments. I am pleased to hear from Edward that things are going to change – but I disagree with Elephant’s Eye about the shrubs: they should not be there. A much better, and more historically appropriate, and cheaper, way of making the garth floriferous is to manage the ‘grass’ as a wildflower meadow – as Prince Charles is doing at Highgrove but for lower-growing species.

  3. Adam Hodge

    This subject Tom has raised begs some interesting questions. Should landscaping around such fine ancient ecclesiastical buildings strictly reflect the architecture, thereby preserving the genre, or be landscaped to more satisfy economic pressures as Edward has highlighted and Tom has recommended. Would a simple cloistered planting be acceptable or even a very modern style, as has been done at the front of St Aldates [Saxon] church in the centre of Oxford [opposite Christchurch College.]

    In France at Abbaye de Royaumont there is a mix of ancient and modern landscape styles and it is most agreeable.

    If Architects can justify adding futuristic additions or modifications to these ancient buildings is it not consistent to also allow modernistic styles of landscaping as well ?

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you, Adam, for your thoughts on this interesting and important topic. I can’t give a general answer but some of the points I would take into consideration are:
    1) there should, at the least, be one example of a cloister in Europe where the grass is managed in whatever manner historians think is most likely to have been used when the garth was formed
    2) despite the ‘domestic’ use of the arcades, I think of the garth as a ‘sacred space’ and believe it should be managed in this way. The purest example I know of is the shrine of Ise Jingu.
    3) when thinking about a modern treatment of a cloister garth, one needs to make assessment of its QUALITY and IMPORTANCE. I regard Salisbury Cloister as being of high quality and therefore of great importance
    4) the Large Cloister of Westminster Abbey does not seem to me of the same quality or importance. It has no use and little beauty. So, while not recommending a modern treatment, here or anywhere, I think it would be better suited to Westminster Large Cloister than to Salisbury Cloister or Canterbury Cloister.
    5) I guess the Small Cloister at Westminster is of even less historic importance but (a) it is more beautiful than the Large Cloister (b) the locked gates give it pleasing sense of sacred seclusion
    6) Umberto Eco wrote that ‘The green turf which is in the middle of the medieval cloister refershes encloistered eyes and their desire to study returns’. One cannot have this experience if tourists are frolicing on a mown lawn or eating ice creams.


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