Ursula's Cambridge Garden

Freelance gardener, plantswoman and garden-designer writing from my small urban garden in a great city


An Autumnal round-up – better late than never!


I can hardly believe that the last time I posted was in the week of Chelsea Flower Show, but it is true!

It’s been a very long time since I have had any time to write my blog as I have been very busy gardening for a growing number of clients. It has been great gardening weather this summer and autumn, so here are some highlights.

At Client #2’s garden everything is taking on a happy maturity.  Here in the west-facing semi-shade bed Carex ‘Ice Dance’,  Heuchera, a Japanese Shield fern, Pachysandra and Alchemilla mollis, with a backing of variegated ivy, makes a pleasing composition of tranquil lush greens and mellow yellows.


In the east-facing bed a tough Valerian blends nicely with a blue hardy geranium (split into five  newly invigorated clumps in the Spring from a huge congested plant) and a Cistus – all three very resilient plants for a sunny bed.


The south-facing lavender and catmint bed did very well, against a wall, where I have also planted 20 Nerines, which over the years will clump up and produce a lovely September show as their favourite place is the base of a sun-baked wall.


And moving into Autumn an inherited Rudbeckia glows in the early morning sunshine…


The substantial project of re-planting Client #4’s garden has been progressing well, with all new planting in two of the three large beds planted by the end of May, and the remaining third bed fully planted up last week.

Here the Miscanthus, Anemanthele lessoniana and Stipa tenuissima of the Grasses bed are coming into their Autumn glory…



The Romantic south-facing border had its front areas planted in May with lavenders, sedums and Agapanthus,  and this pleasing partnership of Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’ and Gaura ‘Whirling butterflies’ seen here..


And the interior of the bed was planted up this October with bearded iris, japanese anemones, peonies and Cistus, Viburnum tinus and Abelia, against a very smart new fence.




Client #7’s front garden is being slowly cleared of a mono-culture of manic hardy geranium, to be replaced in due course with a lawn, step-over apples and a Magnolia.  This is how far I’ve got so far, but there is a lot more work to do so watch this space…




In my own garden there have been some great performing plants over the summer and autumn.  Salvia and Astrantia have done well in a large pot in semi-shade, flowering almost continuously from June until this week….


The wonderful acid green of Euphorbia oblongata has also been a stalwart of the garden throughout the summer –


My new Yukka has been very happy in its pot in the sunshine


and the Calamintha nepeta has done very well flowering for months and months on my balcony, beloved of the bees (I read about this plant in Noel Kingsbury’s book on the Lurie Garden in Chicago, where they said it was a great performing bee magnet).



My new Agastache has been a lovely gentle orange all through late summer and early autumn (seen here with Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ and Hackonocloa)


I have this autumn extended the width of my south-facing bed, and replanted it with a palette of plants that are very happy in gritty, sunny conditions, as well as a very large number of new Allium and Tulip bulbs (a present from my parents) which I look forward to seeing the development of over the next year.  Here is the bed with the new section of pavers removed…


And the new plantings complete


I have also added Japanese anemones and Acanthus to my Cotinus bed


I look forward to seeing how these two beds do with their new plantings.

My Phormium, which has been living in a pot, is finally planted….


And my Tree Fern, has settled in well, planted in a pot as a tiny baby twig of a plant at the start of the summer, and now looking quite lush.


So,  as the colours of autumn gather in around my garden…


my table is building up once again with more plants for new Client #9’s garden project which is just about to be planted up, so I hope to report on that next time I write.


And finally a shot of my parents’ wonderful Hydrangea in its summer glory (grown from a cutting I gave them in 1994!)


Which my Mother has now given me back a cutting from – still flowering in my garden this week – the circle of horticulture goes ever on!


Happy autumn gardening!


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)


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.


Mellow fruitfulness and autumn works


Penstemon ‘Raven’ in the late autumn sunshine


Our lovely quince tree with six glowing fruits


Clematis tangutica  ‘Bill Mackenzie’ having its big moment


The japanese crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) living up to its name

Since I last wrote I have been extremely busy.


Now is the time of year to re-organise anything that is unsatisfactory about your garden, and it is most gratifying  to tackle the garden in the autumn – you know the plants are dormant and happy to be divided or moved, and all the while you are setting up the best possible start for all your plants.  Plant or re-plant everything well, with lots of compost and bonemeal, set them up for getting really nicely settled before the winter, and sit back and watch them do their stuff next year, with the happiness of knowing you did everything at the right time.


This year I had big plans for my sunny long border, and for my front garden, both of which have been niggling away at me as needing a re-think.


A happy chance composition of box balls awaiting planting

The back garden sunny border has always been a bit random in its evolution, with some ‘wrong’ plants I’ve just been putting up with.  This is how it looked in June…


The front garden had got far too untidy and wasn’t really doing very much – a lazy mix of planting that didn’t quite work either.  The irises, whilst lovely, always got bashed down a few minutes after being photographed – it just wasn’t sheltered enough out the front for them.  This is how it looked in June…


So, time for big changes.

The weather throughout my intensive seven separate days of tackling my big project was wonderful – in fact on some of the days it was a little too hot and I had to don a sun hat and sunglasses…


but since I completed all my works it has rained a lot which is just what everything needs now.


So, day one started with a big clear out of the mess that had become the inside of the shed over the summer. Even the cat could sense a deal of excitement in the air.


A huge clearing of dead or failing plants also then took place, and packing away of summer furniture.


Day two was removing bearded irises from the front garden and trimming them and replanting them in the back garden (they were in too much of a wind tunnel at the front.) This is a fiddly and time-consuming task, but important.

If you want your bearded irises to perform well every autumn you should cut away old leaves, and neatly trim the leaves to prevent rocking in the wind which can unhinge the rhizomes from the surface of the soil. Make sure all rhizomes are nicely on the surface of the soil so they can bake, but also well anchored in the grit which you should surround them with to ensure that they don’t get waterlogged in the winter. If the roots haven’t anchored enough to be very firmly embedded when you touch them, give them a helping hand with a little stake just until they are firmly rooted. (Occasionally my cat digs one up and it needs to be re-settled!). All this effort will be well worth it, come May.  This is the same patch of bed as seen above, in its prime…


I also dug up all my front garden crocosmia ‘Coleton Fishacre’ which had got congested and non-flowering and moved it to the back garden. Carol Klein describes them as growing like a sixties bobble necklace, and it is a very apt description – I unpicked vast bucket loads of the necklaces, and replanted them. The plants will now put on new vigour (I hope!)

I then planted more of the species daylily (hemerocallis liliosphodelus) and hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ as both performed so well in the summer.


On day three I removed all dead and non-performing plants from my long sunny back garden border, and cut back all large plants so that I could work unhindered.



On day four I removed all the perennials from the bed, and divided all those I wanted to replant.

I have some lovely nepeta, penstemons and geraniums, but instead of just having a clump of each I wanted to have more repetition and rhythm to the bed by repeating those plants.  I then replanted these with some lovely new plants  – a second pink buddleja, a caryopteris, a mock-orange, and a new penstemon called ‘Raven.’




New hardy geranium ‘Brookside’ happy in the new planting scheme

Hopefully a dreamy combination of blues, pinks and purples will come forth next summer – watch this space!


On day five I cleared the front garden completely and dug in compost and grit.


On day six I completely replanted my front garden with a mixture of euphorbia, lavender and sisyrinchium. I have a blue wisteria and a yellow clematis on the front wall, so I decided to stick strictly to yellow and blues in my new bed, with box balls for structure in the winter.


I also cleared the enormous pile of debri from my back garden into twelve bags of the heavy duty variety to go to composting (the boring bit, and hard work!)


And finally on day seven I planted all my bulbs in the front and back garden, and on my balcony. What has been refreshing is planting bulbs properly for probably the first time ever – instead of just popping them in here and there in my borders (often digging up other forgotten bulbs in the process) this time I was able to add them into newly planted borders, exactly and precisely, laying them all out where I wanted them to be planted first, and then putting them in,  in one clean planting schedule – hurrah!


Lots of daffodils in the front garden, and lots of tulips, alliums and camassias in the back garden. Fingers crossed they all come up well.

Then a final mulch of grit and compost, and a weed of the entire paving  (hated job), and my garden is finally ‘put to bed’ for the winter.


I have so enjoyed being out all day long gripped by the task in hand – it is what I love most about gardening – getting your hands dirty, tending your plants in a caring and exacting way, and knowing you are creating something lovely for the spring – it gives you something to keep you going through the winter months, and gives you a unique glow of having done the right thing by your garden.