Ursula's Cambridge Garden

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


Ice white in Cambridge


A frosty morning on Lammas Land

Well, sadly I did not manage to stick to my New Year’s Resolution of posting on the first of every month, but at least in that failing, some other things got done instead, namely the second module of my garden design course was completed and submitted, which was gratifying (roll on the next four projects!…)


I must do better in subsequent months to blog post on time!


Moth orchid in the February sun


Coronilla and Euphorbia still cheerily yellow in the snow

[I have done everything I can think of to get rid of the odd grid that has appeared above this text, but it refuses to leave, so please just ignore it!]

January and February are of course famously difficult months for everyone – despite the fun of starting afresh with a new year and new projects and resolutions, the unrelenting stubborn cold can freeze even the happiest spirits, and make gardeners long for the satisfaction and surprise of spring and everything rushing headlong into flower and greenery.

So, there has been an awful lot of frost, which is often very picturesque…


Alchemilla mollis


Libertia and rosemary

and even a little bit of snow as well….


Phlomis russeliana seedheads wearing fetching snow hats


Anemanthele lessoniana and box

In fact there is plenty to enjoy in the garden at this time of year, as long as you have planted some things to glory in during these barren months.

Firstly there are snowdrops – wonderfully tough bulbs that press on resolutely in the cold and grey, and just insist that you crouch down and have a proper gaze at their exquisite detail.

snowdrop for Twitter

Galanthus elwesii

Hellebores are always such stalwarts coming up with the glamorous goods winter after winter.  Its a good idea to turn their heads round so you can see the inside the flowers.




And then there are the evergreens, which we suddenly remember with such affection when all else is skeletal and grey. These are the true foundations of the garden, the backbone and the rocks of our gardening lives in the winter – a constant matrix of reassuring gravitas and glossy steadfastness.  The following evergreens are all greatly recommended –


Mahonia (in my parents’ garden)


Garrya elliptica (also in my parents’ garden)


Clematis armandii  in bud


Sarcococca ruscifolia var.chinensis ‘Dragon Gate’




Bay tree

And, of course, the anticipation of the delights to come also keeps us all going as the bulbs begin to emerge.


Emerging daffodil Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’

I have also been continuing gardening for my client, which is very enjoyable, having another garden to think about, alongside  my own and that of my parents.


Freak hail storm stops work for a little while

And yesterday my client’s lovely dainty crocus were all emerging in the cold – every one weeded around carefully by hand as they are beginning to naturalise so well.  That way I really got to look at their delicate beauty close up.


Whilst the wonderful venerable Magnolia towered above myself and the crocuses, impressively in bud against the grey clouds.


So, now I finally have my work station properly organised at last, (instead of hiding my drawing board away each day!), its properly full steam ahead with my KLC course…


Happy gardening and dreaming of spring!


God rest you merry, gardeners


And so this is Christmas…



Well, I’ve been away from my blog for quite a while, very remiss I know, and obviously my first New Year’s Resolution of 2015 will be to post more regularly, on the first of each month ideally.

But first to fill you in on some developments…

In October there was a lot of bulb planting in my garden – especially tulips in assorted creams, whites, purples and lilacs.  I have always wanted to grow Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ so finally got around to planting that little gem of cream and green delight for next spring.



Euphorbia characias wulfenii  was moved from my front garden to the back garden, as I had stupidly planted three in the front, where one was far big enough by itself.  The removed one is looking happy enough in its new home and helps fill out my south-facing back garden border.


I had a bumper crop of figs – I actually ate about twenty of my own home-grown figs for the first time ever.  They tasted great (Brown Turkey) and looked rather lovely too.


And the Quince tree performed very well as well.


I am looking forward to my new Sarcococco ruscifolia ‘Dragon Gate’ doing its thing in January with the lovely cheering scent I have been reading about – newly planted at my front door.  A variety selected by the great Roy Lancaster on his travels.



I also acquired my very first gardening client – (wonder of wonders, a kind soul who actually wants to pay me to do the gardening!) – and this has taken up a lot of the last three months.  It has been fun planning someone else’s garden, and doing lots and lots of soil improving and planting.  Watch this space!




We have planted a lot of quality shrubs with good succession of interest (Cotinus, Rosemary, Buddleia, Sarcococco, Viburnum Opulus, Photinia, Hypericum, Lavender),  repeat flowering Old Roses (Old Blush China and Jacques Cartier) to replace tired Hybrid Teas, interesting perennials and bulbs (hellebores, japanese anemones, Agapanthus, Phlomis, hardy geraniums, Euphorbia robbiae, Verbena bonariensis, foxgloves, Alchemilla mollis, Penstemon, Verbascums, Euphorbia characias wulfenii  , Sedum, catmints, daffodils, tulips)  of a tough and robust nature to beautify the south-facing front garden, generally tidied and provided tender loving care to older plants, and removed vast quantities of wild garlic (horribly invasive).

So finally it only remains to recommend a few last-minute Christmas gifts for gardeners, in case anyone still has a few presents to find for green fingered relatives.  Felco secateurs are a must, as are fingerless wool gloves from Toast (to go under tough gardening gloves) and a really good hat.  A subscription to the RHS or Gardens Illustrated will be quality gifts to give a year of pleasure and enjoyment.

The gardening book I have most enjoyed this year is Dan Pearson’s Home Farm – a brilliantly detailed book, like all Mr Pearson’s publications, and packed full of insight and wisdom which is a delight to read.

So now I wish all you happy gardeners a very restful holiday break, with your feet up for once, a contented quiet read of some great new gardening books, and happy day-dreams of spring and summer plants to come to tide you through the bleak mid-winter.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy gardening 2015.


The promised Indian summer delivers…


Penstemon ‘Raven’

I have been away from the blog sphere since July due to some traveling around a little bit, here….


Wells Beach, North Norfolk

and there….


Henry Moore statue at Dartington Hall, near Exeter, Devon


William Blake quote from Dartington Hall for Twitter

William Blake’s lovely words, also at Dartington Hall


Dahlias and Rudbekias at the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

But finally I’m now back in my own garden for the lovely month of September.


So, this post is very overdue, but it’s a nice contrast to July, because now we have all the beauty of a proper Indian summer, as promised by the weather people – lovely low sunshine, a still and mellow atmosphere with not too much wind and rain, and just a slow slip into the decline of October and November, but not before one last sultry burst of colour, with hazy oranges, reds and burnished yellows having  their last glorious moment.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ has had a great summer  – wonderful in its flowering glory days…


and now rather beautiful in seed-popping decline, as seen here.



Crocosmia ‘Emily Mckenzie’

Quinces are, of course, one of the big stars of September – and my tree (Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranga’)  is finally coming into its own, four years after planting, with a bumper crop of glowing yellow fruits.  This is a great tree for a small City garden – lovely single, blush pink, rose-like spring flowers,  wonderful fruits, and eccentric straggly branch growth that is endearingly ramshackle.


The fig tree is also looking sumptuous this year – its leaves very lush and healthy, with a huge crop of figs, though sadly not quite ripening enough in time to be edible this year.  A few years back I replanted the tree and restricted its root growth by placing several large bricks around the roots – it likes to feel really hemmed in to really ‘get going’ and be happy.  It’s done the trick.


Cotinus coggygria  is another great plant for autumn – mine is ‘Dusky Maiden’ and it is living up to its name, sitting happily with other plants and tinting up beautifully without clashing.



Oenothera, (evening primrose), are new to me this year and they have delivered some beautiful yellows of buttercup perfection this autumn, which I’m very pleased with.


Then, along side all these lovely fiery colours, there are the seed heads that are to be admired at this time of year – the top of the list being the space-age ones of Phlomis.


And the seedpods of Acanthus are robust and beautiful too.


And the wonderful bushy grown of Miscanthus sinensis, the seed heads of which will stay around until February next year for some fabulous winter skeleton architecture.


This is a good time to cut back bearded irises so that they do not suffer wind rock, and the rhizomes have the maximum exposure to sun light and a good ‘baking’ now and in May next year.



 Amongst all the hotter colours of autumn, there are also some wonderful pinks which make a quiet appearance in my garden at this moment in time, particularly an unusual climber, (more often known as a house plant, but perfectly hardy in my garden, surviving many very hard winters) the ‘porcelain berry’ (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’).  The leaves are very striking combined with the delicate pink of the stems.  If the birds leave them it is possible to see the tiny berries (just appearing here) turn a striking metallic purple-blue.



Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Profusion’ (Mexican daisy) is also wonderfully pink, as well as white, at this time of year, and is a stalwart plant flowering endlessly for all of the spring and summer and demanding nothing at all.


And let us not forget the incongruous jewel pinks of Nerines in September. I have never grown Nerines before, although I have often admired great clumps of them near my house – this year I finally got around to planting some.  Sadly, I had to move them to a better spot, so I think true settling in will take until at least next Autumn, but still I have one flower – hurrah!  The photograph doesn’t quite capture the true bubble-gum pink of the flower.


Blues are much rarer at this time of year, but I have two new ones in my garden this year which I am very pleased with.

The first is Liriope muscari, a grass-like, low-growing, evergreen perennial, that produces these rather spectacular small lavender-blue flowers in September that look from high above like little jewellery beads on a stick, but on closer inspection are tiny flowers.



And the other blue star at the moment is Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’, which I planted last autumn, after not growing this shrub for many years.  This is a rather triumphant blue that has a powdery quality that sits well with the other autumn hues, and I am very pleased with it.


My Rosa Mutabilis is still flowering happily, after many months, its flowers starting yellow, then pink, then slowly turning to coppery pink.


And  last but not least, no gardener can fail to spot all the spiders busily at work at this time of year, their webs a work of genius engineering and painstaking labour.  This lovely garden spider had woven her web across the entire width of my garden outside my french windows – I just missed bumping into it by a hair’s breadth!


Happy gardening to you all until next month.


High Summer – some new stars and old favourites


Since I last wrote I have been to Gent (lovely city with some lovely courtyard gardens like this one…)


seen our local heron go punting…


and Mayweek madness has passed from the bottom of my garden.


So, with Chelsea Flower Show now but a distant memory, my garden eases into high summer with aplomb – some reliable old timers are doing their stuff as always, but also there are some new plants I haven’t grown before, (or managed to coax into flowering before), which I am enjoying for the first time.

First for some old stalwarts….


Agapanthus are amazing plants.  When I moved to my current garden I inherited a clump of a small white unnamed one, which survived shade and very hard winters unscathed.  And it was beautiful as well…



Naturally I immediately resolved to grow lots more!

The Victorians led us to believe that Agapanthus were tender and difficult and could only be by the seaside in lots of endless sunshine.  In fact they seem to tough it out in most spots. I have them growing in semi-shade and full sun with equal vigour.


The two big things to know and remember about the genus is that they dislike disturbance or division (they like nothing better than to get nice and congested in a pot) and they like to be fed – tomato feed is perfect for the flowering season.  Other than that they are undemanding and very long-lived and so elegant.



Many people are scared of hot colours in the garden, or announce they won’t have any yellow or oranges and reds in their gardens.  This is a terrible shame, and means that they miss out on some of the loveliest garden plants and some wonderful performers.

High on this list is another great doer, Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ – a stunning day-lily first brought to my attention by Dan Pearson and actually beloved of everyone – famously popular with good reason – a wonderful burnt red for high summer brilliance in the hot border, tough as old boots and very long lived – and uncomplaining.


Another great yellow and equally tough plant is Asphodeline.  It is tall and spindly and self seeds around but takes up very little foot-print space – it has a gauzy quality which is very valuable in the garden – you can see other plants through a haze of its subtle yellow.  It likes to be baked, along with my iris rhisomes, and they therefore make a good pairing following on from each other.  I read about this plant a few years ago as a great plant for drought tolerance in Beth Chatto’s Dry Garden book. I am now pleased to have a good little clump performing well, and my mother is growing on another lot from seeds I collected last autumn.


Another high summer plant I would not be without is Buddleja.  This established one is Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’


and I planted a second one last autumn Buddleja davidii ‘Pink Delight’ which is just coming out into colour now.


These are beautiful tough plants, beloved of butterflies.  The key thing to remember is to cut them down quite drastically each year otherwise a single plant can become an enormous tree with very few flowers perched at the top.  Cut it down to about knee height every March and it will grow much better and flower more prolifically.

In my front garden I have inherited an old established Yukka – I think its Yukka filamentosa.  These plants are incredibly tough, thriving on almost neglect.  Here is mine flowering last summer,


and just about to come into flower yesterday.


So much for the old-timers I already love – now for the new comers. First up is Astelia.  This is a wonderful spiky, exotic looking plant I first read about in a great book I recommend called Sharp Gardening by Christopher Holliday.  Then I noticed it cropping up in garden designer’s lists for exotic-looking plants that can also thrive in shade.

So this is my Astelia ‘Silver Sword’.  It is aptly named as the leaves are indeed very silvery.


However, it didn’t seem too happy in the shade, and seemed to be sulking a bit, so I have moved it into a spot where it gets morning sunshine and it looks much happier – it also shines brilliantly!


Penstemon ‘Raven’ is a new Penstemon recommended by many people, so I thought I would at last diverge from my standard  Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’ – and it has been worth the change because the colour is superb.


I have also grown a new sweet pea Lathyrus ‘Lord Nelson’, seen here with Lathyrus ‘Matucana’ on the left.  Both have knock-out scent and dramatic colouring.


My Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ has finally decided to flower, (after three years of waiting) and it was worth the wait for such glorious flowers.



Another plant from which I have waited several years for flowers is the very trendy Phlomis russeliana.  In early summer it has wonderful yellow whorls..


followed now with wonderful space-age looking seed heads.


So all in all the garden is looking pleasingly happy and healthy at the moment, with the benefit of a wet spring and plenty of good summer downpours, and lots of warm sunshine to boot.





And this is what the cat makes of it all….Happy Gardening for another month!




Chelsea Flower Show 2014 – In with the New



 Hugo Bugg’s garden for RBC Waterscape.


This year I was up with the lark at 5am yesterday, determined to be one of the first through the gates at 8am.



Tree ferns in the Grand Pavillion
The early bird really does get the worm at Chelsea Flower Show – at 8am the show gardens are visible without the huge crowds that later gather and block out the views, and even the garden designers themselves are more accessible, and ‘show fatigue’ has less time to set in.
Chelsea is all about theatre – it’s Christmas Day for gardeners. For all the artificiality of the exercise, the old magic of the show never fails to entrance – everyone’s hearts beat a little faster when the sound-system announces ‘Chelsea Flower Show is now open’ to the patient, anticipatory queue.


Agapanthus in the Grand Pavillion
This year CFS had new, young designers taking centre stage as first time exhibitors at CFS, and their gardens were brilliant.
First up on my radar was the wonderfully named Hugo Bugg’s garden for RBC Waterscape.


This was an understated, cool and sophisticated garden with a serious message about water conservation, but the message didn’t get in the way of the style.

The interlocking geometrical forms that made up the hard landscaping were beautiful in their own right, and when combined with the graceful planting, it made for a knock-out garden.



The planting palette highlighted a splendid cobalt blue Iris robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ which, planted en masse, had a wonderfully tranquil effect.


I spotted the designer and congratulated him on his garden. I was amused to note how many people were oblivious to this smart young man pacing up and down talking on his mobile alongside his creation.I think in future years this level of anonymity is going to be a thing of the past for Mr Bugg – he is definitely one to watch.
Then there was Matthew Keightley, of Farr and Roberts Landscaping, with his Hope on the Horizon garden, inspired by his brother’s service in Afghanistan and the need to re-build servicemen and women’s lives after their military careers are ended.



This was a stunning garden – replete with a beautiful network of granite blocks and box cubes which just instantly ‘worked’.


The use of multi-stemmed Amelanchier and foxgloves to create a handsome glade for recovery was superb.



A granite sculpture with inlaid gold leaf, depicting the sun rising over the horizon, by Mary Bourne was a focal point for the garden.

Mr Keightley was also accepting accolades for his garden from the punters with a look of mild embarrassment and a self-deprecating smile – another young man who will doubtless have a lot more time in the spot light from now on.
And so to a team of two brothers – David Rich and Harry Rich, also youthful first timers, with their super ‘Vital Earth The Night Sky Garden’. This managed to combine the concept of space and the night sky with gardening – not at first a marriage that you would think of, but it worked.



There was a beautiful armillary sphere by Border Sundials at the centre of the garden, elegant pools of metal-edged pools to reflect the sky and symbolise the planets,


a starry back drop, benches to sit and star-gaze, and even a viewing platform and telescope. It all made for a stylish and unusual garden.
Alongside these new designers, there were some established garden designers who were new to Chelsea Flower Show as well.
Charlotte Rowe, whose work I have long admired, had designed a poignant and stunning garden to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One, and to highlight the work of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity called fittingly ‘No Man’s Land’.


If that sounds desolate and un-flower-show-like, it wasn’t at all – the message was that the land in France and Belgium so scarred by warfare can regenerate and recover, and so can soldiers.


Charlotte is renowned for her sophisticated planting and clean-cut modern designs – and this garden had those things, but also a sense of the romance of place and history – she had done her research, as her blog testifies, and visited the battlefields many times, as well as researching the personal history of her grandfather’s involvement in the war.


All of that hard work paid off, and the resulting garden was exceptionally beautiful.
Then there was Matthew Childs, another first-timer at CFS – with the Brewin Dolphin Garden.


This was a gorgeous concoction of trees and shrubs as well as a series of free-standing archways that worked from many different angles to frame the views (always a good idea for a show garden.)



Massed planting of irises and cow parsley was un-ashamedly romantic and very beautiful.
All of the above were favourites of mine, but there were some other garden highlights for me.
Cleve West’s garden for Brewin Dolphin was elegant and meticulously crafted, as always. I loved his ‘tree of life’ stone backdrop he designed himself,


and also his ‘arid’ planting area (what I call my ‘baker’s bed’ in my own garden) –


which shared some of my own planting by a happy coincidence – creamy Eremurus, and yellow Asphodeline lutea.
Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson’s Cloudy Bay Sensory Garden was also very beautiful with wonderful wine-inspired colouring to the plantings




and charred-oak panelling that made the planting stand out really dramatically.

The Mind’s Eye Garden for RNIB by LDC Design featured some great plantings of living walls,



and installations, of which my favourite was this water-wall structure.

Jo Thompson’s miniature white garden for London Square was a delight,




as was the lady herself when I spoke to her, looking very happy with her Gold medal, well deserved at last.
And Olivia Kirk’s The WellChild Garden was perfectly planted


and featured a joyful sculpture by Michael Speller.

So, what were the star plants of Chelsea Flower Show?

There are always ‘stand out’ plants at every show – some old favourites, some new acquaintances, and often some plants seem to be repeated in many gardens in some sort of garden designers’ empathy moment.
This year there was one unexpected come-back – yellow lupins in Luciano Giubbilei’s Laurent-Perrier garden.


Lupinus ‘Chandelier’ and Lupinus ‘Cashmere Cream’ were beautiful and may mark a return of this rather un-fashionable Victorian plant to mass popularity, especially as the garden won best in show.
Two pine trees featured in Auderset Fischer’s The Extending Space garden – Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ and Pinus mugo ‘Mops’ –


another species that could do with a popularity boost.
Box balls were as popular as ever, and rightly so, to anchor plantings and add class to every garden. The immaculate ‘pin-cushions’ of Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz’ s garden for The Telegraph, as they described them, were the most cool –


as only the Italians can produce!
White and cream Eremurus were once again very popular, as were bearded iris and species iris. Verbascum in sepia and apricot hues were doing their thing very well on many gardens, and the acid green of many different types of the vast genus of Euphorbia was used in many gardens as a perfect foil to everything else. Cream Camassia were very much in evidence. I was rather pleased as I have planted a lot in my own garden this year and they are just having their moment now, the blue ones being long gone in April. Long-spurred white and cream Aquilegia, ferns, wispy grasses and cultivated cow parsley all featured with prominence as well.
An unusual wine-coloured plant caught my eye in several show gardens – (here it is in Matthew Childs’ garden)


It is the marvelously named Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ and I will definitely be seeking that one out in future.
Plants being placed against very dark, or even black, backgrounds was a common theme, as seen here in Charlotte Rowe’s garden


and very successfully threw plantings into relief on a rather overcast day.

All in all it was a Chelsea that buzzed with new talent, and all credit to the RHS for encouraging new designers at Chelsea – gardening has to grab new future generations. Military sacrifices were honored with respect and appropriate decorum, without being an over done ‘theme’.
Personally it was one of my most organised and civilised Chelsea Flower Shows in all my many years of coming – I paced myself well and even found myself snugly sitting on a very comfortable pink beanbag (new innovation!), under a tree, in the picnic area by 10am. Actually finding a comfortable seat at Chelsea is a bit of a personal first for me.
It was a stunning day and I loved every minute of it. It was a privilege to observe up close some of the best garden design and planting in the business.
And finally to end with – one of David Harber’s wonderful spheres – I ended with one last year, so I shall do so again this year.



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