The cloister garden at the Cathedral of St. Martin in Utrecht, the Netherlands, dates from 1254. Today it remains a traditional cloister garden. The layout, designed to shut out the external world, encourages contemplation and inward thinking. Tall walls seal the garden off from distractions and a portico provides a sheltered walkway for strolling in any weather. The sound of gently running water coming out of a central fountain further isolates the space.
Ornament references religious inspiration, with stonework depicting scenes from the life of Saint Martin, patron saint of the town of Utrecht. A central statue reminds us of the purpose of the garden - it is of a monk writing, deep in his own thoughts.
Plant material is efficiently laid out in squares, beautifully framed in boxwood.
Unlike other garden styles that make a point of connecting the garden to the architecture of the host building and outside views, the cloister garden does not. To enter this cloister, one must find one of a pair of small doors, pass through a short corridor, and only then does the garden reveal itself.
On the autumn day that I visited this garden I arrived early and the doors to the garden were locked. A note taped to the door said, “collect garden key in the abbey”. Once I inquired at the Cathedral entrance, the woman in charge produced the most beautiful giant antique key, walked me to the gate and unlocked it. For a few minutes I had the garden all to my self.
Utrecht is a wonderful historic medieval city with a beautiful canal ringing its center. It has a unique two level promenade with shops and restaurants. The famous Utrecht University brings vibrant student energy to the city.