Lida Kindersley and Steven Coghill at Kings’s College, Cambridge
King’s College, Cambridge, has a new energy-efficient development on Cranmer Road, designed by Allies and Morrison and built to Passivhaus standard, to provide new accommodation for the College’s graduate students.It is a haven of floriferous joy: an exquisite slate memorial frieze, brimming with flowers designed and carved by the renowned Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, complements the highly imaginative contemporary garden designed by Steven Coghill, the talented Head Gardener at the College.
‘Steven is the intellectual powerhouse of all Cambridge Head Gardeners,’ Clive Boursnell, the garden photographer tells me. (Clive took the photographs for Cambridge College Gardens by Tim Richardson.) ‘It’s such a peaceful setting. It has quickly become a real hub for the King’s graduate community,’ says Alice Bailey, Development Officer of King’s.
The whole development captures the zeitgeist in a subtle sophisticated fashion and was made possible by a generous benefactor who commissioned the frieze.
Aficionados of the work of the Cambridge based Cardozo Kindersley workshop will immediately recognise their distinctive elegant lettering on the frieze. But what makes it unusual is the skilful manner in which many of the letters snake their way across the frieze, curling seamlessly into sinuous flower strewn tendrils. The design is reminiscent of a medieval illuminated manuscript. It is a thing of real beauty.
The overall design is deceptively simple. In reality it was challenging. A paramount requirement was to ensure that the colours of the flowers flowed across the frieze harmoniously. ‘It felt as if we were designing an herbaceous border,’ says Roxanne Kindersley.
‘I thought a conventional plaque would look silly in such a setting,’ says Lida Cardozo Kindersley. When she explained the idea of a frieze to the benefactor, he loved it ‘without even seeing a design,’ asking for cottage garden flowers to be incorporated, drawing on his mother’s own garden for inspiration. He particularly likes lupins. The other flowers include penstemons, daisies, roses, foxgloves and daffodils.
Sourcing the purple slate was easy as fortunately, King’s had an existing source of Welsh slate to use for repairing roof tiles. ‘It is beautiful to cut. But it was a challenge to carve the flowers in shallow relief whilst trying to convey the depth of each individual flower,’ Lisa Cardozo Kindersley comments. ’ ‘It was a lovely thing to create.’ Each, leaf, tendril and flower were delicately painted with signwriters’ paint. The frieze is a thing of real beauty.
If one can turn one’s eyes away from the frieze there is much to delight in the gardens at this new development. It is a surprising garden for a Cambridge College. In place of the more traditional lawns bordered by shrubs there are a few choice ornamental trees such as malus and cornus popped into a matrix of naturalistic contemporary planting which changes as the seasons progress. Matrix planting imitates what is found in natural vegetation: a variety of plant species grow together harmoniously supporting each other to form a self-sustaining community. When I visited pink campion was dotted amongst various different grasses. ‘I am looking forward to seeing how the different colonies of plants sort themselves out,’ says Steven . ‘For instance will the foxgloves move around freely?’
The new Cranmer Road gardens also have allotments for the students and an apple orchard, of course both good for student mental wellbeing.
Any horticulturalist visiting Cambridge cannot but be awed by the towering echiums that line the walls of Clare College looking towards the iconic view of King’s College chapel. Bold and dramatic, they further demonstrate the confidence and vision of Steven Coghill.
Another of Steven’s coups is the wildflower meadow in front of King’s College Chapel. Tantalising, it was on the cusp of bursting into flower when I visited. Judging by the pictures of its first season last year (2020), it makes for a glorious sight, brimming with flowers such as poppies, marigolds, corn cockles and ox eye daises.