Walk into College from bustling Trumpington Street and you can stroll through Old Court where the medieval College began, to Library Lawn with its rose borders and statue of prime minister William Pitt, then on into what was once the Fellows’ garden but is now open to all our students as well as visitors.
Here there is an orchard with fruiting trees including a mulberry and a medlar, and a great Avenue of London planes standing tall like sentinels guarding our newest accommodation for students, Foundress’ Court. Also, beyond the deep pond created from a wartime watertank, an ancient bowling green – not ‘the oldest in Europe’ as twittering generally has it, but possibly unique in having a rub, that is a ridge running down the centre which was a feature in the ancient game and is used metaphorically by Hamlet in his famous soliloquy: ‘To be or not to be… ay, there’s the rub,’ i.e. impediment. Only Fellows play here, with wooden bowls going back to the 18th century which are sliced rather than spherical. The green is otherwise regarded as precious, to be sat around rather than walked over.
Students do play croquet on the nearby New Court lawn which is surrounded on three sides by an exquisite stone wall border made up of many unusual plants with a variety of shrubs on the court walls. The path that leads back towards the 17th century Ivy Court with its formal yews and lavender (but no ivy), bears the name of Nicholas Ridley, one time student, Fellow and Master who in 1555 was burned at Oxford for his Protestant faith. As he reviewed his life he recalled how: ‘In thy orchard (the walls, buts and trees, if they could speake, would beare me witnesse) I learned without booke almost all Pauls Epistles…Of which yet the sweet smell thereof I trust shall carry with me into heaven.’ Ridley’s Walk retains something of its sweet savour with herbaceous beds by the Junior Parlour and, on the other side, a little (largely) white garden focused around a small, shallow pool. Opposite in a more ‘tropical’ bed is a banana tree, Musa basjoo, which has survived in the warmth of this corner and once borne a hand of fruits.
Turn left by the delightful memorial sundial before Ivy Court and another large herbaceous bed skirts the orchard filled with plants recommended by the Financial Times and ends with a winter garden. Beyond the Library by Red Buildings a newish bed, the gift of a Pembroke family, has been planted to brighten up this Victorian corner of the College.
All these gardens are edged by the rooms of students and Fellows giving wonderful views and vistas in which all can share. No wonder that students frequently say that what tipped them in favour of coming to Pembroke was the gardens.