We were welcomed to Wolfson College Gardens by head gardener Phil Stigwood on a warm, sunny evening. Phil gave us a brief history of how the site developed into 10 acres overall by buying up houses along the Barton Road and Selwyn Gardens as they came up for sale. Many of the mature trees in these gardens were kept as a point of interest.
As we walked towards the college buildings Phil explained the ethos behind his choice of plants. He considered colour both of the flowers and the foliage, shape, height, and how plants would fit together in the borders to give a pleasing display and be a source of nectar for the insects. Bushes and trees were chosen for the colour of their branches and trunks, the variety of leaf shape and whether they were evergreen or deciduous.
Phil explained when pruning some of the smaller trees in the garden he cut off some of the lower branches and grew small bushes such as lavender underneath. This gave extra colour to what might have been a bare patch of earth.
We visited the area of the house most recently acquired where the garden had been kept more or less in the way it was laid out by the previous owners. The borders were wide and still included several rose bushes as well as many herbaceous plants. Lavender, geraniums and day lilies featured in many of the borders around the grounds.
We walked past the Chinese Pavilion with two large ‘lions’ guarding the doors. The college was grateful to the Chinese billionaire who had given the money for building the pavilion and had been generous with other projects as well.
There was an old horse statue standing on the lawn at the side of the red Chinese Pavilion which Phil had told his young daughter was a magic horse. If she had climbed on its back it would fly. It was several years until his daughter was brave enough to want to be lifted on to the horse’s back and was very disappointed when it didn’t take off. The effect of planting in this area was, as to be expected, reminiscent of a Chinese garden.
We ended our visit on the lawn where we came in and discussed the planting of this wide border which had a variety of more mature small trees at the back to shield it from the car park.
In summary, the overall effect of the gardens was similar to that of a cottage garden with perennial plants interspersed with low growing bushes and gave the impression of a very welcoming place.