Dean Garnier Garden – The Lady Chapel Bed Competition

April 25, 2017

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Dean Garnier (1776-1873) plaque in Dean Garnier Garden, Cathedral Close, erected in June 2016.

A problem that faces many a gardener is deciding exactly when a much-loved bed has gone past its best and is in need of a makeover.

This was the topic of discussion over coffee, at the end of a working party some months ago, in the Dean Garnier Garden. After more than twenty years the initial design of the Lady Chapel bed had lost its coherence.

Tired Lady Chapel bed after the beech tree had shed its leaves in Autumn 2016.

As we were short of funds and could not afford to employ a design consultant, a competition seemed a good solution to find a suitable new design. With the support of the DGG Trustees, Frances Carroll approached lecturer Chris Bird, who runs the Sparsholt College ‘Horticulture with Plantsmanship and Design’ course, to see if his students might be interested in coming up with a suitable plan. As Chris had been involved with the layout of the original design of the garden it seemed fortuitous to be part of its development.

By good fortune, Chris was about to deliver a Course on ‘Plant Identification and Use’ for his second year students. As such, the Dean Garnier project presented a perfect opportunity to achieve this in both theory and practice.

With the seed sown it was important to get the Friends of the garden on board. Chris agreed to talk about his course at the forthcoming Friends’ AGM, late last October, and rally their support.

The Lady Chapel bed is at the eastern end of Dean Garnier Garden – a quiet, enclosed area – and is the largest and most important horticultural part. It comes into view through a clipped yew hedge as the visitor strolls to the eastern wall; an element of surprise and well-being should be what everyone takes away with them from the planting. This was the challenge of the design brief.

The Lady Chapel bed having lost its form and sparkle in April 2016.

Things then went at a pace!

A budget of £1000 was set for the new planting; a student brief was written based on the vision and constraints highlighted by the Friends of the garden; and seven design students took up the challenge with submission inked in the diary for 27 November 2016.

Before Christmas, a group of Dean Garnier Garden Trustees was invited to Sparsholt College to judge the student presentations; a task enhanced by a generous feast of homemade cakes the students had produced.

The presentations demonstrated a wide range of planting themes, from symbolic, spiritual, sensual, historic, and soft, to vibrant, modern, earthy, moody, dark, and architectural. After much debate, the Trustees settled on Rachel Benson’s scheme as the overall winner. Inspired by the windows of the Lady Chapel in the Cathedral and Dean Garnier’s planting at Bishopstoke, Rachel’s plan offered height, muted colour, and fragrance, as well as a sensitivity to the garden’s Christian and spiritual contexts.

Rachel Benson’s proposed redesign for DGG Lady Chapel bed indicating the presence of two new stone benches.

Rachel Benson receiving her prize (Tim Mowl and Jane Whittaker’s book on Hampshire County Gardens [2016]).
From left to right: John Pringle (DGG Trustee), Rachel Benson (Sparsholt College student and winner of the DGG competition (2016), Chris Bird (Lecturer, Sparsholt College), Carolyn Wood (DGG Trustee), and Veronica Jackson (DGG Hon. Secretary).

Not within the competition budget, but included in Rachel’s design, are structural elements that will enhance the scheme’s unity with the Cathedral and the rest of Dean Garnier Garden. She has designed an elegant, freestanding metal arbour, mirroring the eastern window of the Lady Chapel in the Cathedral; this will one day support new roses and clematis.

Rachel Benson’s, elevation of her proposed design for the DGG Lady Chapel bed with proposed arbour; inspired by Winchester Cathedral’s Lady Chapel window.

Moreover, with the demise of the garden’s only wooden bench, originally supplied by Winchester Horticultural Society, designed by Charles Verey and gifted by Mrs Lees, the Lady Chapel bed now needs a replacement. Two stone benches are proposed, and the suggestion is that these should compliment two already in the garden. As such, funds are desperately needed to commission these intrinsic elements to complete Rachel’s design.

Removal of the old plants, tilling of the soil, and new planting all steamed ahead in February 2017; this was done by another group of Sparsholt students, supported by the Dean Garnier Garden trustees and volunteers.

Sparsholt College students and Jon Carroll (volunteer) planting in February 2017.

To celebrate this collaboration between Sparsholt College and Winchester Cathedral, Chris, Rachel, and runners-up in the competition Clare Freemantle, and George Stone were invited to share the project with the congregation at the Cathedral on Education Sunday in February. Chris Bird gave the first reading from Genesis 2, verses 4-15, on the Creation of the Earth where ‘God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till and keep it’. This was at the heart of the sermon that followed, delivered by The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester: that we have a garden to till and keep.

Rachel Benson in front of Sparsholt College student designs for DGG Lady Chapel bed, display boards in Winchester Cathedral on Education Sunday, February 2017.

On 5 July 2017 the new Dean, The Very Rev Catherine Ogle, will open the popular annual Dean Garnier Garden Summer Party at 6:30 pm; this year the Courtyard Quintet will play during the soiree. This is a date for the diary; come and see the new Lady Chapel bed in full bloom and meet the designer and her team.

New planting mapping Rachel Benson’s winning design for DGG Lady Chapel bed, March 2017.

Susan Wilson
Dean Garnier Garden Trustee and Volunteer
April 2017