“As one sees the [Bishop’s Garden] from the higher level of the entrance walk, [it] suggests the charm of its lights and shadows and density of leafage though no photographs can give a hint of its color and fragrance or do justice to the beauty of its quiet atmosphere: ‘a space of peace’ set apart forever from the rush of the every day world.” —Florence Bratenahl
All Hallows Guild was founded in 1916 by Florence Brown Bratenahl, wife of the Dean of the Cathedral, to raise support and funds for the planting of the Bishop’s Garden and the Close. Following the vision of Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee, the first Bishop of Washington (1896-1908), and the design of Cathedral landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., of Boston, Mrs. Bratenahl helped realize a “Garden for the Ages.”
She located and moved mature plant material —boxwood from George Washington’s Hayfield Manor for the Hortulus, and from Ellerslee Plantation in Virginia for the Bishop’s Garden. She secured medieval sculpture from George Gray Barnard, whose collection formed the basis of the Cloisters in New York—a 9th century baptismal font and 15th and 16th century bas-reliefs are incorporated into the Garden. Terraced into the south side of Mt. St. Alban, the walled Garden is visited by thousands every year. It is the most intensely cultivated of the 59-acre Cathedral Close, land that once was the home and garden of George Washington’s registrar of the United States Treasury.
The Olmsted-Bratenahl vision planned gardens suitable for a 14th century Gothic cathedral, with plants of historical interest, plants of the Bible and Christian legends, and native plants. Among the earliest gifts to the Nourse family of Mount Alban was boxwood from Dolly Madison and Thomas Jefferson. A century later, two of the plants whose origins trace back to the Holy Land are the cedars and the fig trees.
Mr. Olmsted’s designs for the Bishop's garden represented a private garden 'out back' of the Bishop's house, accessible from the Bishop's house. Under Mrs. Bratenahl's leadership it became a more public garden and had a more public and larger entrance through the Norman Court. The deadline for getting the Bishop's garden completed was the General Convention of the Episcopal church, held in Washington in October 1928. By carefully looking over old photos of the General Convention, AHG annual meetings in the Bishop's garden and other photos taken on the Close during the late 1920's and early 1930's one could establish when each of the elements of the garden were actually in place.
A large crane fell on the Herb Cottage and the Bishop's Garden wall damaging the Cottage, the wall and adjacent plants and shrubs on September 7th. To see photos of this damage, click here.> To help us restore, repair and renew trees, plant material and walls and arches in the Bishop's Garden due to the crane accident, click here »
Visiting The Garden
Currently, the Herb Cottage on South Road is closed to visitors. The Bishop's Garden is open, but cannot be entered from South Road. The Postern Gate (across from the Peace Cross) and entrances from Pilgrim Road and the Pilgrim Steps are open.
To see a recent tour of the Bishop's Garden online, click here
If you would like to print a self-guided tour of the Garden, click here »
For a docent-led group (5 or more persons) tour, click here »
If you would like to learn more about becoming a garden docent or garden volunteer, click here »
Suggested Reading: Two books written by Florence Brown Bratenahl - “A Cathedral Hillside and Its Gardens” (1929) and "Historic Trees, Boxwood,Yew and Stone" (1932). These booklets are sold in the Herb Cottage for $6. a piece. And, "A Garden For the Ages" (1927), written by Florence Brown Bratenahl. Also sold in the Herb Cottage for $4.00. You may read these booklets and others written by Mrs. Bratenahl online click here
Or, you may download the following:
“In the Spirit of Old-World Gardens” by Florence Bratenahl (1927)
“The Gardens at Mount Saint Alban” by Peggy Pickard
“History of the Bishop’s Garden” by Suzanne Miller
"Gardeners and Groomers" by Kathryn McKay, Cathedral Age, Spring 2002
Click here to see Olmsted’s plan for Bishop’s Garden added to by Florence Bratenahl
More information on the history of the Bishop's Garden's plantings, in particular, its original boxwood, go to this site, www.washingtondcgardens.net