Ursula's Cambridge Garden

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


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!






Spring is in the air


Autumn used to be the time gardeners stormed through their gardens tidying everything away ruthlessly.  However, since Piet Oudolf taught us all to love autumn grasses and winter seed heads, things have shifted to an end of February clear up instead, which is actually a very satisfactory time to clear everything away and make way for the new gardening year powering in.


Tiny poppy seeds skeleton no bigger than my little finger found whilst clearing away winter debri

This is the best time to cut down ornamental grasses, and to observe close up all the bulbs and perennials you may have forgotten about pushing up through the soil already.

Whilst the great spring tidy is underway one has time to really appreciate everything that is getting started. Here in my south-facing border the massed planting of tulips are all getting away from the starting blocks, with leaves of Gladiolus byzantium edging the path…


And in this image you can really see the layers of the border in the making – Ballota in the foreground, Centaurea and Aquilegia in the middle, and alliums, tulips and bearded iris in the background – all just in leaf at the moment, but a study in the different qualities of spring green, to lift the spirits and wet our appetite for the summer show to come.


 Here bearded irises, Asphodeline, Eremurus and daylilies are all pushing up in my ‘bakers’ bed’ at the start of March..


and in the same stretch of bed, photographed from the other side, a few weeks later, the bearded irises have advanced rapidly as well as the Asphodeline in the foreground.


Dicentra spectabilis is also starting to come back – a very tough and reliable do-er.


And the beauty of Alchemilla mollis emerging from winter has a dolls-house quality as its leaves are initially so miniature.


As well as all this wonderful greenery, there are some significant flowering highlights for this early spring period in my garden which include  –

Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’


The wonderful acid green of Euphorbia characias wulfennii



Viola – great self-seeders and all round survivors


Grape hyacinths




The native primrose which I inherited and which self seeds itself everywhere with grace and ease and is tougher than it looks


And, of course, last but not least, daffodils the cheery harbringer of spring no garden can be without!


Narcissus ‘Jenny’ in front, and ‘Jetfire’ behind



I have also re-vamped  the planting directly under my Quince tree having removed a huge Anemanthele lessoniana which was taking up alot of soil space (I already have four of its offspring self seeded in the garden!) so that I could plant more hellebores for spring, more snowdrops and for the first time, Japanese anemones,  as I have never grown these wonderful plants before.  This spot will be shady for them, along with perennial foxgloves grown for me from seed by my mother.  I look foward to reporting back on this new planting as the summer progresses and in future springs.


Since I last wrote in the winter depths of February I have also celebrated my birthday…


Gorgeous flower cakes by my talented mother

…got an A grade for my KLC Garden Design course second module project (hurray) and got a new external down pipe for my boiler pressure tank. I only mention this last apparently incongrous happening,  because it, of course, presented a planting opportunity! (for another Clematis armandii to keep my Clematis tangutica company – presently cut to the base ready for its new growth).



Meanwhile at my Client’s garden the wonderful magnolia is out…


And I have done my first fruit tree pruning which was rather exciting.  I followed Monty Don’s advice about birds being able to fly through the middle of your fruit tree and also my American fruit tree book [ Fruit Trees in Small Spaces by Colby Eierman ] which talks about all fruit trees aspiring to an ‘open gesture’ shape.  The end result was satisfying, and a start on trees that had not been pruned in quite a while.


And the south-facing window bed planted in October is coming into its own nicely, with Euphorbia robbiae looking very lush and thriving in the centre of this image.


Next month I have been asked to write a piece for KLC’s Blog as a guest writer so do drop by here in due course to read that.

And, of course, I will be off to Chelsea Flower Show in May, from which I will be happily reporting – until then, happy spring gardening!


Miniature watercolour daffodil by my youngest son, Josiah Williams




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.


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