King's College Gardens

  • About
    It is possible to trace back to the sixteenth century some avenue-planting of ash, elm and walnut on the College lands that we now call the Backs. By 1690 there were College gardens on both sides of the river, some of which - a bowling green, a hop yard and an area for a pigeon house - had important practical functions, whilst others were more obviously pleasure gardens, such as the small one for the use of the Fellows. When King's began the construction of the Gibbs' building in 1724 it employed the famous landscape designer Charles Bridgeman to draw up a plan for the land west of the river to accompany the new building. Plans show a central basin of the river occupying much of the ground where Scholars' Piece is today, and its formal design was in keeping with the classical style of the Gibbs' Building. Although the scheme was not carried out, it remained the intention of the College to treat its Backs as an amenity.
    The Back Lawn dates back to 1772 when the College voted for further improvement of the Chapel yard to the west of Gibbs' by "laying down the same with grass seed and afterwards feeding it from time to time with sheep as occasion may require in order to get into good and ornamental condition; to complete the gravelling (of) the Walks..., and not for the future to put any house there". From then on, amenity rather than practical value decided the treatment of the whole Backs area. Nevertheless, in one important respect, amenity does not completely dominate. Sheep may have been the most appropriate way to mow the lawn before the advent of the mechanical lawnmower in 1831, but the Provost and Fellows owned horses essential for their local transport, and provision had to be made for grazing them. Today the cows carry out a similar function in a rather more decorous manner.
    The original Fellows' Garden, a small enclosure on the east bank of the river disappeared with the construction of the Back Lawn and it was not until the renewed building activity of the 1820's and 30's that a new and larger garden replaced it. In 1836 the College agreed to plant the nearest field on the west side of Queen's Road for use by the Provost, his family and Fellows. In 1851 Provost Okes consented to the Provost's close being converted to a "Fellows' pleasure ground" and in 1852 the College agreed to appoint a gardener to look after it. Today, with its relatively informal shapes and pleasing groups of mature trees and lower growing shrubs, the Garden is a typical Victorian design. Its appearance has not changed much in the last hundred years, although when the Garden Hostel was completed in 1950 suitable screen planting of new trees and shrubs were carried out on the west side of the Garden. Use of the Garden by junior members was allowed by the Governing Body in 1935.

    The College grounds are open to the public as detailed in the information for visitors and the Fellows' Garden is usually open as part of the National Gardens Scheme one Sunday afternoon in mid-July.
  • Address
    King's College
    Cambridge
    CB2 1ST

Members of The Mandy Network who have worked for King's College Gardens