No. 14 On The Map
Cathedral College Gardens
Originally known as the College of Preachers, the Cathedral College sits near the northeast corner of the Cathedral at the intersection of South Road and Woodley.
When Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee first imagined what would become Washington National Cathedral, he not only envisioned a great Gothic cathedral to serve the nation but also a “School of the Prophets” to serve the wider church.
The College of Preachers opened in 1929. Alexander Smith Cochran of New York City, heir to a textile fortune, gave the funds for the building of the College of Preachers, including the original Cloister Garth. The financial recession forced the closure of the College in 2008, but work began in 2019 to renovate and restore the building as The Virginia Mae Center.
Florence Bratenahl, one of the Cathedral’s early landscape designers, was awarded the Emily D. Renwick Achievement Medal of the Garden Club of America in 1930 for the design of the College Garth. The enclosed Garth includes a pool made from an old mill-stone.
“An ancient mill-stone of glistening white flint worn and scored with an attractive marking of grooved lines, forms the bottom of the pool. In its center, an opening in the shape of a cross was filled with molten lead, carved, and hammered into a primitive cross while from its center, out of a heavy shaft of lead, was fashioned the spout of the fountain. It meant hours for the designer, Mrs. Bratenahl, using chisels, hammer, and blacksmith’s rasp, but there was the joy of working with material that might last through the centuries. The stone rim of the pool was cut from solid block from the historic quarry originally owned by George Washington.” Cathedral Age, Michaelmas, 1930
To read the full article from Cathedral Age CLICK HERE.
The Cloister Garth was renovated in 1988. The children and grandchildren of Margery B. and Urban E. Bowes donated the funds for the restoration. Mr. David Bowes, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Urban Bowes, is a past Council member of the College of Preachers and a past chair of the Council. A bronze plaque in memory of Margery and Urban Bowes is located in the Garth. The Garth has been closed to the public since the closing of the Cathedral College in 2008. In conjunction with the current renovation of the College, plans are underway for another restoration of the Garth Garden.
On the north side, near the main entrance to the College a large wisteria climbs the corner of the tower. Below, a border of azalea is planted within the stone wall along South Road and daylily bloom in summer.
On the back of the College (facing the Cathedral’s apse), a large border of hydrangea grows along the walkway. A beautifully pruned Eastern Redbud tree brings a bright spot of color in the spring. The iron handrails adjacent to the walkway steps are adorned with vines.
The Walker Fern Garden is located along the north side of the Cathedral College, where a lovely stone walkway is bordered by a variety of ferns and other shade-loving plants. This garden honors Mallory and Diana Walker and was donated by their children in 2004.
Stepping up from the Walker Fern Garden toward the Cathedral, you will find a bench facing a lawn and bordered by hosta. The bench backs up to the College Chapel. A flagstone walk and steps lead up toward the north side of the Cathedral. A large ginkgo tree stands adjacent to the walkway and stairs.
Walking up from the Cathedral College to the North Road circle you reach the arched entry to the Cathedral’s Garth. The Garth is enclosed by the cloister, the Cathedral, and the administration building.
Help Us Keep The Gardens Growing
Partner with us to ensure that the 57 acres of gardens and grounds surrounding Washington National Cathedral continue to be a haven of peace and refreshment in the midst of the Nation’s Capital.