Ursula's Cambridge Garden

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


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.



Jewels in the gardening crown


The sun is shining, the garden has had lots of rain, and its that wonderful tulip time of year again at last!

Last autumn, you may remember, I completely re-vamped my south-facing bed. And then planted a back-breakingly huge lot of tulips – all it seems ‘Queen of Night’, although I could have sworn there were some others too!   Its a real old dependable and a lovely sumptuous colour, so I am not complaining, but I am making a mental note to plant some other associated magentas and wine coloured tulips this autumn to keep these company.



I have also re-planted a lovely tulip that had sort of disappeared in my front garden – it is called ‘Moonlit girl’ and is a lovely gentle yellow.


Sadly only one flower has decided to arrive thus far, but never mind.

I also have the species Tulipa sylvestris for the first time as well.


There are, of course, lots of other non-tulip highlights for this wonderful time of year.

All the greens are so fabulously intensely green right now, and all the fresh new colours of spring ‘zing’ even more intensely in contrast to that emerald back-drop – it really is a time of year when something new is popping up virtually everyday and plants are growing  before your eyes within hours.

I particularly adore my box at this time of year – the lovely new growth seems to give the lovely round shapes a look of glowing ‘as if lit from within’, as Dan Pearson once memorably put it.



Ferns are unfurling at this time of year by the minute, and their abundance and lushness is also  joy to behold – ancient yet so contemporary at the same time..


My Acer is a  yellow-green all of its own at this time of year strangely mixed with pink stems, which works well  even though it sounds like it shouldn’t.  (I inherited this wonderful tree so I don’t sadly know its variety name.)



Dependable grape hyacinths are powering back – they thrive on complete neglect in my herb bed and come back every year.


My Dicentra spectabilis is always a big star of the shade border  – a really tough and reliable plant.



My pots are also coming out of hibernation.


My Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ has been very happy this spring, and has flowered abundantly…


and my Chinese virginia creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) is coming back into leaf (seen here along with my Clematis montana).


And here is a close up of its amazing ‘feet’ that mean it can self-cling to the wall…


Quite a few plants are completely new to my garden this spring – things I have long coveted, but have only just got around to growing.

The first is the wonderfully named, and equally spectacularly performing, Euphorbia characias wulfenii – its particular shade of acid lime green is the true herald of spring…


I am very pleased with how it has worked in my new front garden bed design.



I have never grown Cammassia leichtlinii before – but one of the blue form is flowering today – the first of many I hope, as I planted a good quantity of the white and blue forms.


Two other new things.  Firstly a new houseplant.  I have only grown moth orchids to date – but I have now branched out with a ‘ZZ’ plant as its commonly called – allegedly it cannot be killed and survives on utter neglect, but we shall see.


And I have this week planted up a ‘stumprockery’ at my parents’ garden. It started life as a stumpery, but as its not actually in the usual gloomy shaded spot that stumperies favour, it has become combined with a rockery – lots of lovely alpines and the fern Dryopteris affinis which can tolerate sun. I look forward to observing its progress…



So,  this is my favourite spring view of my garden from my kitchen at the moment,  as I await the on-coming excitement of Chelsea Flower Show, from which I will be reporting next month, thereby also marking the two-year anniversary of this blog!


Watch this space and happy gardening!!






Finally, spring has sprung…..


So, the weather may have been appallingly wet, and often depressingly grey, this winter, but finally spring is around the corner, and everything in my garden is looking very happy at the moment.   All the new planting I did in the autumn couldn’t have had a better grounding for getting established and everything is just raring to get going.

I’m also quietly pleased today, not only because the sun is shining, but mainly because I have just posted my first assignment off to  KLC for assessment – hurray!  It’s been a steep learning curve, but a fascinating journey which I’ve really enjoyed, especially getting to grips with all the technical drawing.  I love the artistic side of getting  my horticultural knowledge onto paper.


The transition of winter merging into spring is always exciting, especially as there are so many highlights along the way in quick succession – every day brings satisfying discoveries of old returning friends in the garden.


The snowdrops have been lighting up the garden since January and are still going strong.  Here are some of my doubles, against a backdrop of ferns…


And here are some of my mother’s singles against a glossy backdrop of bay.


My hellebores have been getting on very nicely without me during all the wind and rain – when I ventured out at the beginning of February there they were!  They have got going at last this year, after sulking for a while after planting a few years back.  Here are some flowers in a bowl, the better to examine closely the simplicity and variety of the flowers.




My coronilla is looking ever more luminous, and now smelling divinely lemony…


And my eremurus are pushing their way up ready for all those dramatic ‘fox tail’ flowers in May.  Last year each rhizome I purchase gave me one flower spike – this year there are six peaking out for each rhizome…


My trusty bearded irises are really gathering pace now, their first perfect leaf spikes always a most welcome sight.


And these are my verbascums, seedlings raised by my mother, waiting to shoot up their wonderful yellow spires in summer – the leaves are white and furry and architectural.


So this is my garden as of now – waiting for the abundance of summer, but showing definite signs of all the powerhouse of energy that is surging up from underground as all the bulbs and herbaceous plants return to life.




And finally two ‘mottos to live by’, that keep me company at my desk…happy gardening, until next month.



Happy New Gardening Year!


Alchemilla mollis with frost

Welcome to 2014!  Even if it’s already feeling quite a familiar thing by now…

Many apologies for having been absent from my blog for so long – November and December were frantically busy with garden studies, my son’s birthday, and, of course, the delights of Christmas.   However, a few horticultural highlights need to be noted.

In November I was very lucky to attend a lecture by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter fame, given by the Friends of Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. He was a wonderful and inspiring speaker, with an amazing slide collection, which he just talked us through in an engaging and informal style, (without a single note!) and many great jokes. He is such a hands-on plantsman, with such a wealth of knowledge and expertise. It made me realise I must go back to see Great Dixter again – I last went about 15 years ago.


Acanthus leaf outlined with frost

I also attended my first Society of Garden Designers conference in London in November, as a newbie student member, and it was excellent. A great venue at Imperial College, wonderful catering throughout the day (mini cheesecakes with tea break!) and some fascinating speakers. I particularly enjoyed Cleve West‘s modest and hilarious talk on how he became a garden designer and where he gets his inspiration from, and Andy Sturgeon‘s no less self-deprecating and witty analysis of his design style and influences. To see two great designers whose writing and work I have admired for many years live on stage was a real treat. It was a great day and I look forward to attending more SGD events in the future.

But mainly I’ve been working hard to finish my first submission project for my KLC course (almost there!), of which more in subsequent posts. This post is therefore rather short this month, I’m afraid.

So, today I had a quick check to see what’s doing well after a heavy hore frost this morning and surprisingly quite a lot is going on out in the grim January depths ….

My white Helleborus niger is emerging


My Coronilla valentine ssp.glauca ‘Citrina’ is flowering,


As are my primulas


My Clematis armandii is about to flower, with swelling buds


And my Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is developing its splendid buds on nodding heads, getting ready to do its spectacular thing in the spring.



But my snowdrops are not yet really producing any flowers – only one, growing sideways!


So, all and all, its quite exciting, even for the quiet month of January. Although, of course, January is a great month to do plenty of garden reading, dreaming and planning and assessing the ‘bare bones’ of your plot from the central-heating comfort of your sitting room.

Finally,  I must share with you my mother’s wonderful artistry, inspired by J R R Tolkein’s original illustrations – here is her Hobbit birthday cake she made for my youngest son – Bilbo on his barrel going down stream…


(It is gardening related because the forest is made of real Koelreuteria and Yew tree branches!).

Happy gardening until next month.


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