Hidden gem: the Cathedral’s Victorian allotment garden is full of spring promise

It’s the busiest time of year for the Cathedral’s team of gardeners at the moment, with lots of work needed in the Cathedral’s allotment garden to plant out a greenhouse full of promising young shoots. Flowers from the garden will be used over the summer for displays inside the Cathedral. We caught up with our gardening team during a gloriously sunny week of planting.


“It might not look like much at the moment, but this is the most exciting time of the year for us gardeners here at the Cathedral.” Geoff enthuses on an early May afternoon of blazing sunshine, “We start to see the first signs of success from everything we’ve grown from seed or cutting earlier in the spring.”

The choice of planting in the garden is thoroughly Victorian: gladioli, dahlias, crysanthemums, begonias, fushias and more. The emphasis is on structure and colour, tall stems that reach for the sky and will eventually crane towards the towering heights of the Cathedral’s lofty ceiling when used in flower displays. These species aren’t the height of fashion at the moment, but are utterly in keeping with the atmosphere of the space, with its Victorian potting shed and surrounding mass of historic buildings. But it’s trendy in different ways; the ethos of home-grown, locally sourced produce is certainly making a comeback in today’s environmentally conscious world.


This year the planting is on a scale not seen before. “We’ve got one thousand five hundred crysanths alone,” Keith, a seasoned gardener at the Cathedral for over thirty years, gestures at the trays and trays of young foliage that have spilled out of the greenhouse and take refuge against a sheltered wall. It’s hard work growing everything from seed or cutting, but the gardeners are also having a bit of fun, this year growing melons and even sweetcorn alongside species they’ve grown from cuttings for decades.

The allotment garden is the Bailey’s hidden gem, a rare oasis of calm on a peninsula thronging with students, businesses and visitors to County Durham’s iconic World Heritage Site. Unique among English Cathedrals, Durham Cathedral has its own allotment garden to grow flowers for display inside the church during the summer months.

The history of the allotment garden is shrouded. The plot has a Victorian potting shed, and has been growing cut flowers for Cathedral displays since the 1960’s, but little more than this is known.

The allotment garden is rarely officially open to the public – the last time was for last September’s Heritage Open Day – however curious visitors are encouraged to have a peek and a chat when the gardeners are at work in the garden.

If you’re curious to learn more, read this piece from the Telegraph written by local cut flower grower and journalist Caroline Beck, exploring the garden at the height of its beauty in late summer.

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