Abbey cloister, gardens and woodland

Exploring the abbey grounds

Walk beneath the leafy canopy of the woodland garden and you can lose yourself in the colours and smells of nature. Discover paths taking you to our rose garden and apple orchard or seek solace in the cloister arcades.

Lacock Abbey, founded by Ela of Salisbury, third Countess of Salisbury  in 1229, had at its centre, the enclosed cloister garden surrounded by an arcade of cloister walks on three sides. Cool all year round, this complex of vaulted rooms including the sacristy, chapter house and warming house were used as a nunnery of the Augustinian order.

The cloister walks at Lacock Abbey
The cloister walks at Lacock Abbey
The cloister walks at Lacock Abbey

As you walk around the Abbey you will see borders filled with plants from Mediterranean climates many of which have aromatic foliage such as lavender, santolina, artemisia, rosemary, thyme, southernwood, russian sage and myrtle. 

Other flowering plants you may spot on your visit include agapanthus, passion flowers, iris, hemerocallis, hardy geraniums and shrubs such as ceratostigma, potentilla, hydrangeas, staphylea, carpenteria, fremontondendron and a mass planting of the alba rose ’Celestial’.

Alba rose ’Celestial’ at Lacock Abbey
Alba rose ’Celestial’ at Lacock Abbey
Alba rose ’Celestial’ at Lacock Abbey

All the plants grow well under the hot south facing walls of the Abbey.  If you walk through to the cloisters, here on the damp north-facing wall, you will find a collection of ferns with their fine foliage.

The gardens at Lacock Abbey could easily be described as a romantic woodland, a style of garden made popular in the nineteenth century.

The woodland gardens are at their best in the spring before the leaf canopy of the trees block out the light to the spring bulbs and flowers.  Under the trees you can find snowdrops, aconite’s, anemones, daffodils, snakeshead fritillaries and one of the best displays of crocus vernus in the country.

Shrubs in flower during the spring and early summer include viburnums, mahonia, osmanthus, clematis, magnolia, philodelphus, forsythia, flowering crabs, cherries, hawthorne, lilac and a Judas tree on the abbey wall. 

As summer arrives the garden takes on a different atmosphere with the trees in full leaf giving essential shade to the sleeping spring bulbs.  The meadow areas of the garden are left un-mown until July allowing the fritillaries and crocus to set seed.

The Rose Garden at Lacock
The Rose Garden - Alison Jane Hoare
The Rose Garden at Lacock

An unusual feature of the woodland garden, and looking its best in June, is the formal rose garden created by William Henry Fox Talbot’s mother Lady Elizabeth in about 1830 together with its small stone gothic summerhouse. 

From the ramblers Alberic Barbier and Francoise juranville to the shrub roses alba maxima, maidens blush, Penelope and Jaques Cartier, summer in this secret garden is magical.

Agapanthus in the Botanic Garden
Agapanthus in the Botanic Garden
Agapanthus in the Botanic Garden

Little is known of the history of the gardens in the monastic period other than the existence of a kitchen garden and orchard.  Those still exist today, although the kitchen garden is now village allotments.

In the autumn, the apples in the orchard are harvested by Lacock's gardeners and sold in the Fox Talbot Museum shop.

The allotment plots in September in the grounds at Lacock Abbey
The allotment plots in September in the grounds at Lacock Abbey
The allotment plots in September in the grounds at Lacock Abbey

All the plants around the Abbey have been carefully chosen to blend with the stonework and the monastic atmosphere.

What's that plant?
If you spot a plant during your visit that you don't recognise, our garden team are happy to help. Why not send us an email saying where you saw it, what it looked like and include a photo if you can and we will let you know what it is.