Ursula's Cambridge Garden

Gardener, plantswoman and garden-designer in the making writing from my small urban garden in a great city

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The Great February tidy up

Snowdrops for Twitter

Galanthus nivali in my client’s garden soaking up the sunshine

A very belated happy New (old) Year to you all!


If you are a fan of autumn grasses and leaving all plants to show of their winter skeletons  (a new philosophy which has subtley effected many gardeners over the past decade – meaning you leave everything to treasure the effects of shrubs and perennials right through the winter, even in their death-throws!) – then your big moment for clearing up in the garden – in fact the most important of the whole year – is now in early February.

Ornamental grasses in particular follow this pattern – a big cut back in February, lovely new growth in Spring/early Summer – spectacular seed heads in Summer/Autumn, lovely architectural skeletons throughout the winter.  This is their month to be dormant waiting  to start all over again – and for things like Stipa and Miscanthus a really severe cut back kick-starts them back to life with a vengence.  Equally if you want to see all your lovely spring bulbs you necessarily have to finally clear away the now spent detritis before its too late.

So my big cut back was on 3 February.  This is the view from my sitting room in August last year in high summer…


And this is the same view when I had finished the great five-hour tidy up!


So that’s the contrast between high summer and the verge of spring now with all the tulip bulbs beginning to show  and the new leaves of emergent perennials.  A very satisfying if delicate days work, as one has to be very careful not to sweep away or damage something that is on its way back to life.  I think this is a good way to garden – rather than emptying the garden of everything in October and looking at bare soil for four months, which can be depressing and wastes so much of what late autumn plants have to offer.

Here new bearded iris growth is revealed, and the rhizomes get a chance for maximum baking in the spring/early summer sunshine for best flowering…


And this is the whole tidy effect from my balcony at the end of the task!


2016 has been very stormy in my neck of the woods but not desperately cold at any point yet, except for one harsh week or two.  And there has been plenty of rain – the bamboos have loved that, as have my Hellebores – I planted eight new plants last year and they’re really settling  in now, as are the ones my mother gave me several years ago.





Also the Euphorbias seem to have survived flowering too early in December and are just powering on



Then, meanwhile  elsewhere, at Client #2’s garden I have been replacing the wooden edging with Everedge and reducing the width of the West bed –




And in the process had to move a very mature Hellebore to a shadier spot – it’s doing really well – I think the move (which I took my time to do very carefully indeed – teasing out the roots and cutting back the many old leaves) has given it a new lease of life.


The Cyclamen coum planted last Autumn in Client #1’s garden are doing well in the circle bed – they look like little jewelled sweets…


And last, but not least, of course, this is the month of the snowdrop – and the month to divide and re-plant your stocks to get more drifts.  Snowdrops only like to be planted ‘in the green’ so February is the month for purchasing snowdrops.  Never plant dry bulbs of snowdrops.  I have been getting more into this wonderful genus – I have just read a lovely little publication by Jackie Murray called simply ‘Snowdrops’ – a very concise guide, in which the author’s enthusiasm is quite infectious.  I don’t think I will ever be a fanatic (otherwise known as a ‘Galanthophile’) but I would certainly like to increase the range of varieties I grow.

These are some double ones in my garden…


and some rather perfect ones looking poised in bud, in my Mother’s garden…


Happy gardening to you all and a happy and healthy Springtime ahead.


Season’s Greetings 2015


It has been a very busy autumn, and, truth to tell, I have had very little time to garden in my own patch as I now have five clients to garden for – it’s getting quite hectic, but in a good way!

So,  time for a little bit of ‘before’ and ‘after’, which I always like.

For Client #1 the back garden is now (almost) cleared of weeds with the intention of it being a working vegetable garden.  Last autumn it looked like this, entirely populated by brambles and weeds……


and a year later, at close of work this December, it looks like this, with heavy-duty Mypex down to suppress weeds until things kick off in February/March next year.  Garlic rows on the left and spinach at the back boundary are the only vegetables powering on through the winter.


It’s even beginning to look quite orderly, like a proper vegetable garden should do!


And in the front garden, which has been extensively planted over the past full year the new plantings are really getting established – here Phlomis russeliana, Sedum and Rugosa rose on the last session of the year in December (but looking like late summer!)


Work for Client #2 began in June of this year.

The pond had been filled in with grit years ago and therefore looked like this…


After much hard work it now looks like this by late Autumn, the already resident architectural leaves of Astilboides tabularis set off as they should be as a magnificent back-drop to a pond.


And very quickly life returns to the pond!


A shady bed was full of weeds and old Mypex and bark chip, so the brief was to empty the bed and begin again with a new planting scheme.  So for a while in the summer it looked like this…


And then in October it was planted up with a palette of shade loving, tough but beautiful plants including Sarcoccoco, Viburnum tinus, hellebores, japanese anemones, Alchemilla mollis, Euphorbia robbiae and Aquilegias among others, and now looks like this…


With the addition of smart Everedge edging a few weeks later, which I had fun installing for the first time.



And here is a close up of the planting, with lovely Carex ‘Ice Dance’ in the foreground.


Then the south-facing bed behind the pond was cleared of weeds and grit from the pond cavity was relocated here.  It was then planted up with plants that love baking in gritty, hot conditions – rosemary, lavenders, Sedum, Phlomis and Euphorbia characias wulfenii.





In the front garden a lot of work has been done to make it neat and tidy, hand-weeding all the gravel and maintaining this rather wonderful long box bluff which was infested with bindweed.


So, watch this space with other work progressing in the New Year with the other three gardens I will be looking after.


Back at my own garden versatile Euphorbia are becoming rather an obsession – here rather nicely paired with box in the background…

Euphorbia and box for Twitter

and here with Miscanthus grass in the background.


And of course my trusty old Coronilla is flowering and powering out scent as I write – a truly wonderful shrub for all year round.


coronilla for twitter

So now, before Christmas is well and truly upon us, it only remains to wish everyone a Very Happy Christmas and a great gardening New Year!



Autumn calling



It has been a busy summer break since I last posted, and quite a hectic ‘Indian summer’ September as we slip into autumn.

A few horticultural highlights of the holidays were, firstly, a return visit to wonderful Kiftsgate Court Gardens in Chipping Campden, a garden we have visited for many years running. Here is the wonderful still pool in the water garden, with leaf sculpture fountain by Simon Allison, with a great ‘island’ for escaping from it all!



The Phormiums were spectacular and architectural…


and the Dierama stunning in the sunken fountain section of the garden…




These are wonderful long-lived perennials that are notoriously difficult to get established – Helen Dillon and Dan Pearson have both written about them and cautioned patience waiting for them to get established.  They resent competition and moving, so I am looking forward to an eventual display from the one I have planted in my garden that my mother grew from seed.  I possessed one many years ago given to me by my gardening aunt and it did flower, so I look forward to this plant’s welcome return as a feature in my garden.  It is commonly known as ‘Angel’s fishing rod’ and I think the photographs show very clearly why!

Kiftsgate also had this lovely combination of japanese anemones and Agapanthus.


And this is their Gaura flowering well…


Gaura is new to me in my own garden (see below) – I had read about it often, but never grown it, so this year I popped one in a big pot in June and it has flowered non stop until the end of September in an airy, light, effortless way that is very effective, so I heartily recommend it.


And secondly we visited the splendid Wiveton Hall Farm in Norfolk, where the cafe has a little plant section which stocks some lovely things, including this Salvia ‘Patio Blue’, now happily thriving in my garden.


Back in my own garden, I was surprised over the summer as I never thought Astrantia liked my garden, but I  found that one has self seeded itself and likes it after all (seen here against box)…


It has been a great year for the majesty of my fig tree if not the actual crop (no figs to eat this summer unfortunately)…

Fig tree for Twitter


However, the main thing that has been taking up my time and gardening imagination, however, has been a busy autumn of planning, and then planting, for my two clients – at one stage over 120 plants were in my back garden awaiting delivery and planting! (seen below lined up in the middle of the aerial picture)



For No.1 client I have planted up the circle bed, which is home to a beautiful Magnolia.

Here are the plants set out for planting…


And planted out.  The bed already contains historic tulips and roses – and these are now underplanted with massed Aquilegia ‘Lime Sorbet’, Euphorbia oblongata, Alchemilla mollis and violas.



The whole front garden is coming on nicely after a year of hard work clearing the beds of invasive wild garlic, and planting a lot of reliable shrubs and perennials.  Here it is in September 2014 before work began…


And now the pavement bed looks like this, with Sedum and Phlomis and Euphorbia enjoying a gritty, dry, very sunny spot…


And the semi-shaded fence bed looks like this (here seen in June with new Verbascum, foxgloves and Papaver somniferum)



Back in my own garden it has been a glorious September with some notable highlights.

My Quince tree fruit is looking very classically perfect and is even ‘glowing’ in the rain this morning!



My ‘Graham Thomas’ honeysuckle has had a second flowering in September…



And it was a great September for Crocosmia…




And finally my Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’ has been looking lovely back-lit in the low, early morning sun.

Cotinus for Twitter

Wishing you all a great autumn in your gardens until my next post.


High summer gems



Lampranthus brownii burnt orange/cerise pink flowers only open on hot sunny days


It certainly seems a very long while since I last posted from Chelsea Flower Show – the summer has spun on at high-speed, and now everything in the garden is powering into its late summer fireworks.


Acanthus spinosa and Asphodeline


There are several highlights in my garden of the last few months, as well as now, that I want to share, but first of all I want to pay tribute to my wonderful parents, whose fortitude and ‘can do’ spirit is a constant inspiration to me.  They have created their fantastic garden over the last 32 years from the bare bones of a neglected historic garden, to make it the treasure it is today, so here are just a few ‘gems’ from their plot –


Clematis (name unknown) thriving in the vegetable garden


Dappled shade in the arboretum (all trees planted by my parents)


The nerve centre HQ of a talented propagator  – my mother’s greenhouse






Above: Alstromeria, Papaver somniferum, rhubarb and giant Angelica in the vegetable patch, succulents in an old sink trough and Geum ‘Mrs J Bradshaw’

Meanwhile back in my own garden I have been enjoying planting up a new project – nice new planters on my balcony.  The plantings here had been a bit half-baked for a few years – permanent plantings of vines and clematis aside, it was time for a change.  My Sempervivum and house leaks moved up to the balcony for a start to get more baking in the sun, and I planted up three generous long troughs with a mixture of ornamental grasses, perennials and annual pelargoniums, as well as cucumbers to grow up the wall.  I will add bulbs to this permanent planting throughout the coming year.  This is how they looked on day one, back on the first day of June, with the blue of the Veronica very striking –


They filled out quickly – here in mid June…



And by this week they are look like this –



The tiny airy plant with miniature lilac flowers is Calamintha, a plant I read about as being a star of the Lurie Gardens in Chicago – very long flowering and tough, with a strange savoury smell.

Earlier in the summer I was pleased with this combination of blue and gold bearded iris with Euphorbia for the first time, as the later was moved to this bed last autumn.


It was a great year for bearded iris which thrived on all that early sunshine and heat.



Dispel all thoughts of Dame Edna and do plant Gladioli communis subsp. byzantinus –  a tough little plant that likes nothing better than a dry, sunny, gritty edge of a bed to colonise, and brings a lovely fresh pink to early summer.  I planted a lot of the tiny bulbs last year, and was well rewarded…



White foxgloves figured prominently in June popping up by themselves in just the right place –


going rather well here with Lonicera ‘Graham Thomas’, Knautia, alliums, Euphorbia and catmint…


Nigella, as ever, do very well all by themselves self-seeding effortlessly every year…


Old stalwarts in my pots are a mystery ornamental sage (purchased for 50p at a plant sale – sadly name unrecorded!) and Aquilegia, pairing nicely with the fresh green of early summer leaves.



Another greatly recommended performer of summer is Erigeron karvinskianus (known as Mexican Daisy) which flourishes on a tough life of self seeding itself into cracks in the paving and thriving on neglect.  Here it is combined with sage and box –


My Astelia is now getting quite big in its pot.  It lives in my mother’s greenhouse in the winter but comes out in May and is so wonderfully silvery it does add  a sparkle to summer –


It has been a very good year for Agapanthus as they have loved all the sunshine and heat.  They like to be left alone in one space, either in a pot or in the ground, to get nicely settled down and to get their roots all congested – then they will flower away like anything and never need to be disturbed or divided. Their perfect flowers give weeks of pleasure, their stems stand up to any amount of weather and wind, and they are very long-lived and effortless.



Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is very popular at this time of year for a very good reason – it is a superb colour, it flowers for ages and is very robust –



This is a new pot I planted up for a shady corner – an evergreen japanese fern, a variegated Carex, and the wonderfully named architectural evergreen leaves of Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’.  All are doing very well in quite deep shade.


This is the very useful perennial foxglove Digitalis ferruginea growing under my Quince tree and looking wonderfully ‘furry’ in the sunshine.


This is a new perennial to me, which I have read about, but never grown.  It was planted in a pot in early June and has barely stopped flowering since and is very appropriately named Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies‘.



So in conclusion, it’s been a lovely horticultural summer thus far.

I love to observe the way the view from my kitchen back door changes with the seasons – I try to keep photographing the same view for direct comparison – so here is a flavour of the evolution from winter to high summer –






Wishing you all a very happy gardening summer!




Chelsea Flower Show 2015


Marcus Barnett’s garden for The Telegraph, featuring Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ and massed Aquilegia

After many years of attending Chelsea Flower Show I didn’t think I could ever be particularly surprised before I got inside the show ground, but this year, having risen at 4.30am and got smoothly to the gate queue by a respectable 7.45am, I was indeed surprised to be asked to hold the ‘planted’ (excuse pun) test bag for the working cocker spaniel sniffer dog to find for the official security dog-handlers – a charming exercise (he found me within a minute!) which I took to be a good omen for the gardening highlight of the year, which never fails to fill the gardener’s heart with Christmas-morning-like excitement.


Rupert Till’s dog sculpture

So what did I make of this year’s show? Well, every Chelsea Flower Show has a different flavour, but, as always, certain highlights stand out for me. I have chosen my favourites to share with you – and there was a great deal to love this year, from the zingy and zesty planting schemes of the Fresh gardens category, to the classic, clean lines of the larger show gardens.


A beautiful shadow thrown by Macleaya microcarpa (plume poppy) in Fernando Gonzalez’s garden

Firstly, Fernando Gonzalez’s garden for the Pure Land Foundation was my absolute favourite in the whole show, with its lovely rusty red, orange and burnt ochre colours and perfect planting, set against beautiful undulating walls made of Jesmonite – a marble like structure I had never heard of before, which shimmered very subtly (like new snow in sunshine) in the intermittent sunshine.  (If you look very carefully in the above picture you can see just a little bit of sparkle.)


The planting featured one of my favourite trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) and an inspired mix of Macleaya microcarpa (plume poppy), Geum ‘Fire Storm’ and ‘Lady Stratheden’, Iris germanica ‘Kent Pride’, Asphodeline lutea, Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ and Euphorbia cyparissas, and a newly released, sun-loving, sterile perennial floxglove Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’. The whole effect was stunning.




Then there was the ‘Dark Matter’ garden for the National Schools’ Observatory by Howard Miller Design, which as the daughter of, and husband of, a scientist perhaps I was predisposed to love, and this was my second favourite. This was apparently illustrating, by the use of a warped lattice of steel rods, the bending trajectory of light around massive objects in the Universe, which implies the presence of ‘Dark Matter’. But forget about the science which I can’t even grasp – it was just a really super garden which made you smile!


The concept of showing a scientific principle in a garden sounds dry but just looked lovely, especially the rusty glow of the steel structures, with the yellow/orange/ochre/green palette, which is rapidly becoming my preferred CFS palette. Obviously all designers are constrained by what plants are available and will thrive in the unpredicatable May cusp-of-summer weather, but a change from the traditional roses/peonies/astrantia purples and pinks is very welcome and fresh feeling.


Anemanthele lessoniana, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’ and Verbascum ‘Clementine’ were stars in this garden and made for a lovely combination.




Then, who could not love the mighty vision of Dan Pearson? The man destined to design the planting of the Garden Bridge for London has long been one of my all time gardening heroes, and his return to CFS, designing for Laurent-Perrier, after over ten years is a triumph.


Not only did he win a Gold Medal (naturally) and Best in Show, but he also produced such a still, beautiful, wild, untamed wilderness that you could hardly believe it was man-made, let alone that it was in the middle of London. It was elemental and very characteristic of his style – atmospheric, elegant and wild all at once.  The work of a great plantsman.


A blasted tree trunk and the fresh yellow of Rhododendron luteum in Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth inspired garden


The Chatsworth boulders, the weight of which almost threatened the sewers underneath the site


Smyrnium perfoliatum and tree trunk



So after those three top favourites of mine, what about all the others? Well, there were lots of other wonderful stand out gardens as well.

In a totally different vein, I loved Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliams’ Wellington College garden (for Darwin Property Management Investment), which very tastefully managed to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo in a beautiful and memorable way, whilst also being very contemporary – a difficult trick to pull off.


Eremurus, Iris and poppies striking under Fagus sylvatica pleached cubes

The chaos and confusion of battle symbolised by dramatic poles


A single soldier sculpture surveys the scene


The tranquility of the Wellington College gates recreated

Two more gardens that also promoted lovely yellow/orange themes in their expert planting were, firstly, Matt Keightley’s garden for Sentebale, with its lovely use of orange wallflowers Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’ and ‘Winter Rouge’ ….



and, secondly, Sean Murray’s garden (deliberately referred to as a ‘Feature’ rather patronisingly by the RHS because it had won their own TV competition RHS Great Chelsea Garden Challenge – but actually executed to a very high standard, so I will call it what it was – an inventive and engaging show garden!)


Then there was Marcus Barnett’s fabulously elegant design for The Telegraph, with a lovely seating area, beautiful blues, ruby hues and crisp creams that really sang.


And Matthew Wilson’s equally elegant symphony of hazy blues, lovely landscaping and unusual, artistic seating for the Royal Bank of Canada.


Perfectly placed succulents in Matthew Wilson’s garden




Unusual ‘clashing’ planting, worthy of the late Sir Christopher Lloyd himself, was featured very successfully in the invigorating garden of Chris Beardshaw for Morgan Stanley.



Apart from the show gardens as entities in their own right to be analysed, there were some other specific gems in the show.  In particular, I have come to really look forward to the high quality sculpture and art works at CFS and how they are used – always well chosen and expertly sited.


Stone circle in Jo Thompson’s M & G garden



David Harber’s regular lovely stand



‘Trust’ by Anna Gillespie in Chris Beardshaw’s garden



‘Let Heaven Go’  by Anna Gillespie also in Chris Beardshaw’s garden



‘Xylem’ – 4 metre high sculpture in welded steel by Ian Campbell-Briggs (with lovely Astelia and Geum planting below)



Aluminium frame ‘dripping wall’ feature in Tatyana Shynkarenko’s ‘Thinking of Peace’ garden
Bearded Iris are a great personal favourite of mine, and this year they were taking centre stage, as they often do.


Chris Beardshaw’s dark blue Iris with orange Geum



and lighter blue Iris also in Chris Beardshaw’s garden.



Matthew Wilson’s blue Iris and pond


Sir Cedric Morris (1889-1982), artist and Iris breeder of great renown, was commemorated in the Grand Marquee.




I also love slate in gardens, and on Darren Hawkes’ garden for Brewin Dolphin there was enough to satisfy any enthusiast – 40,000 hand cut pieces to be exact! – forming lovely structures and striking decking like this:



And so another Chelsea Flower Show over for another year.  Returning home crossing Lammas Land in Cambridge reminded me of Mr Pearson’s wilderness –



And on returning to my own garden, as I sat recovering from the excitement of it all, I thought it really wasn’t looking all that bad either….



Happy gardening for another month!






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