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.


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.


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.


Autumn Arcadia

Clematis tangutica ‘Bill MacKenzie’ doing its best for the autumn colour display.

I have always followed the rule I was given when I first started gardening – autumn is THE season to do anything major in your garden, and no other time.

Change any plantings, divide perennials, move shrubs, plant new plants, and get your bulbs in the ground in October/November when the ground is still warm and the plants are dormant.  A bit later in December, when it’s frosty and even snowing, is for planting bare root roses.  Exceptions to the rule are non-spring-flowering bulbs (which need to be planted in spring itself) and grasses (which prefer to be divided or planted in March, when their cycle of show and display is finished and ready to start again).

Vitis vinifera purpurea turning red in the early morning sunshine.

Once you are committed to this traditional way of organising your gardening year, it is actually liberating rather than constraining – you are not duped into believing you can pop any plant in whenever you like (like a piece of furniture in a room) and expect it to thrive.  You really can’t.  I only ever had one year when I thought I would plant a few things at strange times, and it was a disaster – what could I have been thinking of?!

Also, by following ‘the plan’ you are taught that most important of all gardening attributes – patience.

Crocosmia ‘Babylon’ still flowering in late September.

It’s all about thinking ahead to autumn and what you’ll change, add or subtract from the ongoing picture composition that is your garden and your unique combination of plants.  In reality this means a year of studying how your plants are doing, writing things down a lot (notes of plants to avail yourself of in the future are very important) and because you’ve got a whole year, plenty of time to think properly about your choices.

Wild geranium turning crimson.

So, whilst gardeners glory in every change of season, loving and nurturing every highlight as the gardening year sweeps by, at the back of their brains ‘the plan’ is hard-wired to keep rolling on from one October to the next, waiting for the much anticipated moment when we can finally step out on a nice crisp, sunny October day and really become ‘at one’ with our borders – assessing, moving, re-organising and relishing the freedom to dig up and split perennials, knowing we are improving the overall picture, multiplying our plants and having a hands-on, close-up moment with our precious charges.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’

Dan Pearson was writing in the Observer last weekend about how gardening is a cerebral, as well as a tactile experience – your ‘to do’ list is always flickering away in your head, whilst you are enjoying getting your hands dirty.  I agree that both sides of the activity are so important.  Although I spend a lot of time writing about gardening, there’s nothing quite like the actual doing – being outside in the fresh air and engaging with the soil is the most wonderful thing, and the buzz you get from a day’s hard graft in the garden is like nothing else.

Sedum ‘Matrona’ just beginning to turn.

So, you may say, what if I feel a year is just too long – what if I am ruled by the ‘I must have that now’ attitude?  Well, you have to unlearn that feeling of instant gratification that is so 21st century, and learn the gentler art of waiting and planning – it’s much more satisfying in the end and so much better for your plants too.

Bergenia ‘Overture’

I have been working on my plan all year, and over the next fortnight I will be putting it all into action, as September slips into October, and I’m so excited about getting out there and enjoying all the hard work.

Unidentified Acer turning from summer lime to pink on the way to crimson.

I have three main beds in my back garden, my shade bed (which requires no specific changes this year), my new bed, which needs complete root and branch re-planting and re-thinking, especially focusing on plants that need baking conditions, and the long bed (though it’s not really very long, except to me!) which is being augmented rather than changed.  My tiny front garden  is also due for additions.  Then there’s the allotment which requires a vast amount of weeding and tidying (after much neglect this summer), irises to be retrieved, and garlic to be planted.

So, there is a great deal to get done, as ever.

Lots of lovely new aquisitions awaiting planting!  On the left Cornus Alba is starting its fiery display.

I have been coveting many planting intentions for a whole year, culled from extensive reading and admiring, and now the scraps of paper and scribbled notes have become a list, and all the plants are sourced and awaiting planting.  So watch this space …they’ll be in situ very soon now!