In the first of a series of exclusive behind the scenes interviews, Kelly Vickers, Director of Meet Cambridge, speaks to the people behind the gardens of Cambridge University and its colleges.

Whether they’re blooming with gorgeous spring flowers or glowing with autumn colour, the college gardens of Cambridge are a joy to see. Here are our picks of fantastic gardens to visit in Cambridge, which boast amazingly kept lawns, borders and hidden corners, no matter the season:

Madingley Hall

See a video of Head Gardener, Richard Gant, here:

Used for everything from conferences to weddings, garden parties to adult education courses, the grand gardens at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education, Madingley Hall country estate, which date back hundreds of years, have a range of distinctive features.

Richard Gant, Head Gardener, adores the Edwardian croquet lawn and alpine beds. Having worked at Madingley for more than 20 years, he fell into gardening after being offered a holiday job at 17. For Richard, gardening is not only a skill but an art form. The team’s efforts at Madingley are to create a cohesive garden whilst conserving its legacy, bringing people out of the hubbub of Cambridge to relax and explore.

Did you know?

  • Lancelot “Capability” Brown, coined ‘England’s greatest gardener,’ was commissioned by the college in the 18th Century. Madingley Hall offers a walk dedicated to him, where visitors can still see the improvements he made.
  • Madingley Hall won the Gold Award for Green Impact, the environmental accreditation scheme at Cambridge University.
  • Clipped annually by Gardener Colm, the cuttings from the Yew Topiary Garden are donated for use in the manufacture of drugs for chemotherapy. The needles contain high concentrations of alkaloids, which are lethal to leukaemia cells and cancerous tumours.
  • Madingley Hall also features a Medicinal Garden, used for the Festival of Wellbeing. Split into four sections, the garden offers aromatherapy, dye plants, herbal medicine and culinary. Still in its infancy, the culinary section grows tomatoes as lycopene is known for its anti-cancer properties, as well as a range of herbs and vegetables that Mark Walker, Head Chef, uses fresh in his catering ventures.

For more information, see the Madingley Hall Gardens website.

Wolfson College

See a video of Head Gardener, Phil Stigwood, here:

Step inside the gates of Wolfson College and you are immediately surrounded by a wealth of colours and textures. As one of the younger colleges, the site has been around since 1965, providing a peaceful conference venue and academic site on the edge of town. With a background in plant pathology, Head Gardener Phil Stigwood says he is forever behind on office work, preferring to spend all his time outside pottering. The flower beds at Wolfson are steeply sloped, offering a stage to proudly display his ‘babies’.

Wolfson College gardens have a natural flow with year round interest, from the spring flowers through to the summer perennials, the autumnal confetti of golden leaves followed by the herbaceous winter garden with scented shrubs. Local gardening clubs tell Phil that Wolfson College are their favourite gardens, but you don’t need to be a specialist to appreciate the green spaces.

Did you know?

  • More than 60% of plants sold in the UK are from China. With a penchant for the Oriental, Phil is particularly proud of his shaggy, peeling Tibetan Cherry Trees. He encourages students to stroke them as natural oils from our skin polish the translucent copper bark.
  • Waxing lyrical about roses, Phil says that many have lost their smell through hybridisation. It’s worth a trip to Wolfson, however, just to inhale his exquisite Strawberry Hill roses which have retained the most gorgeous fragrance.
  • Pruning things harder results in better growth and colour. Phil’s Flamingo Acer has stunning pink hues throughout the leaves, and his Elder Sambucus (Black Lace), rather than being woody and tall, has amazing body and colour.

For more information, see the Wolfson College Gardens website.

Churchill College

See a video of Head of Grounds and Gardens, John Moore, here:

John Moore, Head of Grounds and Gardens, ensures that day-to-day operations run smoothly at Churchill College, which covers a 42-hectare site. It’s a popular venue for conferences through to sporting events; they even have a mobile bar coming soon.

After the college was founded by Winston Churchill in 1960, he planted the very first tree. Since then, only three people have been responsible for the gardens. Respecting the original designs, John has injected more colours, including a display of almost 20,000 daffodils by the Chapel. Cowan Court, a student accommodation development which should be finished this summer, is John’s next project as it needs landscaping. An alumnus has also donated a sum of money to install a flower garden in their name which is currently being planned – watch this space for new gardens to visit.

Did you know?

  • Churchill College’s specialist orchid house is home to almost 200 specimens from the largest plant family. The tropical haze gives life to vanilla, native bee orchids, kite orchids and spider orchids among trickling water features; a truly unique asset to the college.
  • The college is in the process of developing a National Archive of plants named after Winston Churchill, sourcing them from all over the globe.
  • Churchill College is known for the sculptures which are dotted around the gardens from modernist sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Bernard Meadows, as well as contemporary, abstract pieces from Christine Fox. The Curator of Arts at the college is responsible for sourcing the art forms.

For more information, see the Churchill College Gardens website.

Trinity Hall

See a video of Head Gardener, Andrew Myson, here:

Andrew Myson has been Head Gardener at Trinity Hall for the past 16 years. He takes care of all outdoor spaces across a number of sites, including the central gardens and those at Wychfield. Trinity Hall offers a diverse mix of style and content, with a range of habitats and plants. From the typical college front court, complete with a grid of neatly striped lawns, Trinity Hall opens out at the back onto the River Cam where punters can be seen floating past and gazing up at the iconic buildings. In line with the diverse mix of spaces, Trinity Hall opens its gates to a range of uses, from being a welcome space for students, staff and fellows to meander and relax, to the organised functions such as garden parties, conferences and weddings.

Part of the garden is inspired by the college symbol, a crescent, demonstrated by the curved borders and crescent hedges.

Did you know?

  • A new project for Trinity Hall is WYNG Gardens, where a row of houses has been taken out to make way for green space. The garden structure should be finished by September with planting through winter.
  • Trinity Hall has commissioned an artist to create trellis sculptures for the upcoming WYNG Gardens, with metal coils spiralling out above head height.
  • Trinity Hall has gardens that are good enough to eat – literally – with peaches, plums and cherries growing in the Fellows’ Garden. At their Wychfield site they also have an orchard of apples and apricots.

For more information, see the Trinity Hall Gardens website.

Corpus Christi College

See a video of Head Gardener, Dave Barton, here:

The Corpus Christi gardens are an all-rounder in terms of events, suitable for a range of college, corporate and private functions. Unique to the college is the formal New Court lawn, which doesn’t have a single blade out of place, as well as window boxes, which spill over with vibrant pink blooms. Shakespeare productions are performed in the Master’s Garden, so you can pull up a blanket, bring some snacks and enjoy some classic English culture in a classic Cambridge location.

Head Gardener Dave Barton says he’s a stickler for detail who prefers to hand weed the New Court front lawn, enabling him to get to know the grass better and avoid yellow chemical stains. Old Court is brightened with huge ceramic pots of climbing petunias, as well as an impressive trumpet vine which was planted in 1966.

Dave is most proud of the Bursar’s Garden which he has transformed from a ‘high-walled prison cell’ into a ‘floriferous spectacle’ with crocuses, sunflowers and lilies, the latter of which are the college’s emblem.

Did you know?

  • One of Corpus Christi’s six satellite sites is used to grow rhubarb and 20 varieties of Cambridge apples, as well as bulbs and wildflowers for aesthetic appeal. Without a huge amount of work, there is produce to be reaped by everyone.
  • The Bursar’s Garden also contains a magnificent 400 year old mulberry tree.
  • Dave picks the dahlias to give fresh cut flowers to the office, a sweet personal touch and a way of bringing nature indoors.

For more information, see the Corpus Christi College Gardens website.

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