The Last Blooms of Summer

Summer is mainly over, and the heat has wilted most of the gardens in D.C. But the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral seems to hang on the longest, filled with blossoms and winding paths. The garden was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. 100 years ago, and augmented by Florence Bratenahl, the wife of the first Dean of the Cathedral.

The garden is known for its historical plants and sculptures, designed to complement the Gothic Cathedral. Two towering cedars came as seedlings from Palestine a century ago.

Historic fountains, plaques, and statuary are found throughout the garden.

  1. The Wayside Cross is believed to come from the time of the early Christian pilgrimages
  2. The sundial is an 18th century bronze from England, sitting on a 13th century limestone pedestal from a monastery in Rheims
  3. The stone font is believed to be a 9th century work from the Abbey of St. Julie in France
  4. The Norman Arch forms the entrance to the garden. It is a replica of a 12th century arch

The garden is where bees and butterflies go to get their last summer meals.

There’s also a small pond filled with koi, and at the right time of day, the Cathedral is reflected in the pond.

The garden slopes downhill, and when you reach the bottom there’s a charming place to sit. It’s called a “shadow house,” and each of the openings in the octagonal structure show a different framing of the gardens or Cathedral. The building stones are from Grover Cleveland’s summer house.

Framed view of the Cathedral from inside the “shadow house”

The garden is free and open year-round during daylight hours. It is on the south side of the Cathedral, with a walled entrance on South Road or an open entrance on Pilgrim Road.

Side note on earthquake damage: While the Cathedral suffered severe damage from the 2o11 earthquake and repairs are still ongoing, the Bishop’s Garden survived intact. But a few days after the earthquake, a 500-foot crane was brought in to assess the damage to the Cathedral, and fell over and crashed into the Bishop’s Garden. The famed cedars and most of the historic items remained unharmed, but the Norman Arch gate had to be repaired and many of the garden beds rebuilt. The crane operator was inside the cab of the crane at the time of its crash, but was not significantly injured.

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