Newnham Gardens welcome Roy Lancaster and friends

Celebrity plantsman Roy Lancaster and recently retired Head of Horticulture at the RHS, Jim Gardiner, visited Newnham College gardens as they sizzled in the August heat. The pair discussed the College’s rare plant collections with the horticultural staff, making notes as they went.

The visit focused on the College’s species lime collection, and the dramatic annual display borders. Despite the visit lasting over an hour, once every plant had been admired and discussed, the team could only show a third of the garden.

Roy and Jim were able to identify two species for the College: Pachystegia isignis, an unusual low-growing evergreen shrub from New Zealand, and Polylepis australis, a small tree native to mountain forests of Argentina which are recognised as being one of the most endangered forest ecosystems in the world.

The annual borders and ‘herb garden’ are currently filled with a dramatic hot palette of architectural plants. Ricinus communis and dahlias in red and orange fill out the borders. Canna ‘Wyoming’, with its orange bursts of colour above purple foliage, acts as punctuation. Notes of white from nicotiana and cosmos lift the colour scheme.

The visitors were very impressed, praising the high standard of gardening, despite the challenging conditions. They commented particularly on how well the plants were surviving the heat: a marker of the care with which the borders are enriched, and the plants are selected and grown on.

Of course, every gardener wants to visit behind the scenes, and Jim and Roy checked out the plants in the horticultural yard, awaiting planting in the new gardens around the Dorothy Garrod Building. The new Philippa Fawcett Courtyard takes inspiration from mathematics in nature, with a green and white colour palette and a white camellia tree.

The team are looking forward to welcoming the distinguished visitors back to view the new gardens.

“Their passion for plants was just great to be around,” said gardener Bee Piper. “They’re welcome back any time.”