The present Fellows’ Garden was designed in 1947 by Professor Nevill Willmer, a physiologist and Fellow of Clare from 1936 to his death in 2001.

In dividing the Garden into separate sections (some almost like ‘rooms’), Willmer was inspired by the great garden of the Arts and Crafts period at Hidcote in Gloucestershire. But his goal was by no means simply imitation; it was also experiment. The Garden brings together two of Willmer’s interests: the landscape painting that he practised as an amateur and the principles of colour vision that he studied as a physiologist.

Thinking pictorially, Willmer conceived of a number of landscape pictures to be seen from different vantage points, such as the west front of the college and the Master’s Lodge, the bridge over the Cam, or the view from the Avenue through the gate to the Sunken Garden beyond.

Gate to the Fellows Garden

Fellows Garden

The Fellows’ Garden is one of the most admired gardens in Cambridge. Professor Nevill Willmer (1902 - 2001), a Fellow of Clare and a cell biologist interested in the origins of vision, was entrusted with redesigning the gardens in 1947. Currently, far from being the exclusive province of the College’s Fellows, the garden is enjoyed by our students in the Easter term and is usually open to the public during the summer months.
Due to the ongoing building work in Old Court, the Fellows Garden is currently closed. We anticipate that it will re-open in 2024.
River Beds by Howard Rice

River Beds

Willmer’s planting made clever use of perspective and colour perception. In a landscape painting, the distant horizon will look hazily blue. Likewise, an illusion of distance can be achieved in the Garden by planting bright-coloured flowers in the foreground and softer, pastel shades further back. You can see a similar effect in the River Beds, as viewed from Clare Bridge: from this key vantage point, yellows and oranges give way to crimson (i.e. bluer) reds as the beds recede.
Yellow & Blue border Howard Rice

Yellow and Blue Border

A magnificent double herbaceous border runs from the Sunken Garden to the riverbank, planted in shades of yellow and violet-blues, including delphiniums, aconitum, achillea and verbascum. This is another application of Willmer’s knowledge of colour vision: go into the Garden at twilight, and you will see how the blues become lighter and the yellows darker, as daylight wanes. Willmer delighted in leading colleagues into the garden to watch this very effect.
Sunken Garden by Howard Rice

Sunken Garden

Inspired by a trip to Pompeii in 1926, Nevill Willmer designed a sunken garden with a central lily-pool. A dry York stone wall is used to support the upper level of lawn with the surrounding border lending itself to alpine and rock-loving plants. This garden is best enjoyed in spring before the main herbaceous borders steal the show in summer.
Fellows Gardens

Tropical Garden

More recent innovations in the Garden, under the leadership of Steve Elstub (only the third Head Gardener since Willmer’s day), include the sub-tropical garden. In late summer you can be enclosed in this private jungle-like space, with bold form and colour provided by bananas (Musa spp.), castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) and Abutilon pictum.
Tree inside Memorial Court

Memorial Court

Memorial Court was built during the 1920s to a design of Giles Gilbert Scott and dedicated in 1926. Much later in the century [1986] the Forbes-Mellon library, intended principally for undergraduate use, was constructed in the large and open court of Memorial Court.
Two large Pine trees dominate the lawns either side and in 2006 the planting around the edge of the court underwent a much needed redesign. The tired mixed shrub strips were updated and extended by the Head Gardener at the time, Steve Elstub, and his team. The plantings include an array of Cistus’, Miscanthus, Agapanthus, Sedums and Chamaerops humilis ‘Vulcano’.
Ashby Court nepeta & iris

Ashby Court

In 2014 Ashby Court saw improvements culminating in “walk-through”; a pollinator friendly planting bays with seating. Three different species of Birch and two Acer griseum give structure and dappled shade in the summer months. The Forbes-Mellon library opens out onto the central lawn, which is much used by the students for relaxing, studies and May Ball preparations.
Etheldreda, Castle Court

Castle Court

Set in the shadow of Castle Mound, Castle Court is situated between Castle Street and Chesterton Lane. There have been many add-ons and alterations through the years with the final refurbishment of the grounds completed in 2012. A terrace with Mediterranean planting bays and umbrella crab apples, (Malus ‘Evereste’), a “prairie” style embankment that sweeps around Ethelreda House are among the many improvements made to the hard landscaping, to improve appearance and access.
Avenue in Spring

The Avenue

Our Avenue, Early Spring
Yellow, white, a dash of blue,
Daffodil, daisy, scylla too.
Iron gates, black and gold,
Clare’s colours wrought in bold.
Our Avenue’s dressed herself for Spring.
Nothing to wear but her very best.
We who walk her in silence sing,
Praising her beauty, being blessed.
- Terence Moore

Our Avenue, Late Spring
That Spring dress’ all tattered and torn,
Scruffy, bedraggled, withered and worn.
Gone the yellow, the white, the dash of blue,
Till Summer comes undress must do.
Our Avenue must bear Nature’s pace.
We who love you in patience wait.
Waiting whilst you re-grow your grace,
Hoping Summer’s sun will it re-create.
- Terence Moore