Elgin's Biblical Garden stands in a fitting location a little north of Elgin Cathedral and on the opposite side of King Street. To reach it you follow King Street from the cathedral entrance around a corner and past the Bishop's House: to an unassuming gateway in the wall.
Beyond the gate is a remarkable three acre space, a "garden of repose" in which it is visitors can relax and enjoy the natural world. And, if they wish, follow the complex web of biblical references contained within both the planting and the hard landscaping.
Elgin's Biblical Garden opened to the public in 1996 after being established by trainees from The Moray Council's parks and gardens department. It is now maintained and developed by horticultural students from Moray College during the academic term, supported by the "Friends of the Biblical Garden" and The Moray Council. Like all gardens it is very much a work in progress, and during its life around 90 trees and shrubs have been added through donations from school groups throughout Moray.
What this means in practice is that no two visits are ever going to be the same. The garden obviously changes between seasons (the pictures on this page were taken during a visit in May): but it also evolves over time as trees grow and new projects come to fruition.
A biblical garden is, at its simplest, a cultivated collection of the one hundred and ten plants that are named in the Bible. Elgin's Biblical Garden goes rather beyond this. Each of the plants carries a label providing a cross reference to its place in the Bible and its use in biblical times. As a result we discover, for example, that the nettle is mentioned as a food in Isaiah 34:13.
The garden is also populated with a series of life sized sculptures of characters from the Bible, including "The Good Shepherd"; "Moses receiving the Ten Commandments"; "The Prodigal Son" and "Samson in the Temple". Catch the garden on a quiet day, with no other human visitors, and the sculptures can lend it a slightly other-worldly feel. It's easy to imagine their coming to life in a "Night at the Museum" sort of way, when the garden is closed at night or in the winter.
The main axis of the garden is provided by a central walkway, laid using over 1,000 textured paving slabs, which forms the shaft of a Celtic cross when viewed from above. In the centre of the walkway is a plinth topped off by a stone Bible, open to reveal relevant quotations from Genesis 1:11 and Isaiah 40:6-8.
Elsewhere in the garden a desert area has been established to represent Mount Sinai and the cave of the resurrection, and a marsh garden has also been developed. At the time of our visit funds were being raised to create a rock garden and a water feature.
Those with a knowledge of and interest in the Bible will certainly gain a great deal from their visit to the Biblical Garden, especially in a tranquil setting which affords views of Elgin Cathedral. But is also possible simply to enjoy the garden as a garden: just as it is possible simply to enjoy Elgin Cathedral as a stunning ruin. The garden is beautifully tended and very varied, and comes complete with plentiful seating, donated by benefactors. It certainly provides a wonderful and fitting contrast to a visit to Elgin Cathedral.