I was very surprised to find a garden open for the National Garden Scheme on Monday 2nd January. So with Christmas and New Year safely over for another year we set off on a bright but very cold day to visit Robinson College, Cambridge. The first of my 90 garden challenge.
None of the familiar yellow signs were displayed because this is a garden open most of the year. Directed by the NGS Gardens to Visit book, we entered through the Porter’s Lodge. It is the proceeds from the garden guide that you buy from the Porter which are donated to the NGS. The guide is a complete joy and provides the history, a comprehensive list of the plants and maps:
Entering the very modern courtyard we were disappointed to find the chapel with its John Piper windows was not open.
The entrance to the garden was not terribly obvious and it took us a little while to figure out which steps to take.
Up and over a stairway we found ourselves in the college garden. It is icy cold and the bridge is a touch slippery. Leaving the main building behind us we crossed over the Bin Brook into what is an amalgamation of gardens from Edwardian to Modern.
It is not specifically a winter garden as such but there was plenty of interest, either in the form of colourful bark,
or winter flowering shrubs such as Mahonia with yellow flowers exploding like fireworks.
The Sarcococca or winter box generously lining the path was smelling a dream.
Throughout the gardens there are plenty of places for scholars to sit, to think and to dream. Was the sail-like stainless steel sculpture meant to imitate the shape of the Wellingtonia (sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendula’) growing across the flat lawn. Or is it the other way round?
Also called the Weeping Redwood, this mighty tree is almost human in form and looks as if at any moment it might pick up its branches and lumber right across the lawn.
A beautiful vase stands in front of an older college building,
and to the side is a cluster of seed heads of Verbena bonariensis which add a little interest and highlight the smoothness of the green beyond.
Even the unripened figs are a delight in the morning sun.
Not all the buildings are modern and at the entrance to this house is the inevitable bike with a Jasmine nudiflorum growing magnificently.
A metal fence with a central moongate not only provides a frame for the newly planted ivy Hedera hibernica to climb but also divides an eating area:
The Bar table seems refreshingly modern but somehow keeps a natural feel. The giant golden oat Stipa gigantea brighten the border behind.
Lutyenesque steps are an striking feature and also cleverly link a serious drop in ground levels.
Round the corner a splash of colour catches my eye, cyclamen so small yet so bright:
Old, old espaliered apple trees stretch their boughs along the straight path.
The outdoor theatre was created in memory of Maria Bjornson a celebrated stage designer. The empty stage now waits for its next summer performance:
Mistletoe Viscum album inhabits the surrounding trees growing on the outside of the college grounds; always so high up in the branches and out of reach,
within the garden it grows on the apple trees at eye level. You just don’t appreciate how very pretty it looks; the opaque berries are enchanting.
We were the only visitors in the garden that morning except for one Japanese student, the odd squirrel, a noisy cock pheasant and much to his surprise, and ours, a muntjac deer. Sited on the other side of the pond and viewed from many angles are two ghostly objects apparently in silent communication:
We return to the main college building. It is the juxtaposition of the old and the new which is so striking; an aged tree lies propped up in front of the modern red brick building.
The sound of rushing water can be heard as it travels under the many levels of brick passageways,
and it is the many layers of gardens that have been so absorbing. We have enjoyed the sculptures and the spaces throughout the garden; the enclosed and the open, the wild and the tamed, the formal and the relaxed with a huge variety of plants and trees. It is a perfect garden for the scholar not just to sit, study and contemplate but also to eat, watch and even to act. We look forward to returning in the summer.