Most people have seen Clare College in Cambridge without even realising. It stands cheek by jowl with King's and if you've seen that classic view of King's College Chapel from the river then you've at least had a glimpse of Clare standing right alongside.
Last Sunday The Fellows' Garden at Clare College was open to the public as part of the National Gardens Scheme. These gardens are usually off-limits to visitors, only the senior staff of the college being able to wander here on a regular basis.
During the 1930s the garden had become very neglected, but after the war it was decided to renovate the whole area, redesigning the garden though incorporating some elements of the old plan. The man put in charge of the scheme was Prof E N Wilmer.
When I was growing up in Grantchester just outside Cambridge, Nevill Willmer could often be seen about the village. He was a keen sketcher and painter who published a couple of thin volumes of his drawings, entitled Old Grantchester and The River Cam, each illustration being accompanied by notes on the history and associations of each scene. Other than that most villagers simply knew that he was "some sort of perfesser at the colleges".
In fact he was at that time Emeritus Professor of Histology which, in case you don't know, is the microscopic study of cells and tissues. He also had a great interest in how the human eye and brain perceive colour.
As you may have perceived for yourself from the pictures so far, Nevill Willmer designed the garden to contain as many different types of garden as he could fit into the space - different "cells" one might say. He also used his skill as a painter to construct a garden which acted as a frame for different views.
His plantings often drew on the theories of colour perception: red flowers were placed in front of blue to create a feeling of depth.
He is also said to have subtly narrowed the width of paths so that distances appeared greater than they were (though it was too subtle for me to spot!)
These yellow and blue borders were one of his great delights and, after dinner in the college, he would lead people here so they could observe how, as the twilight waned, the blues became lighter and the yellows darker.
There is at present a ten-year plan to return Prof Willmer's garden to its original state, some of the trees and shrubs having grown so large as to block the views which he intended.
It's a wonderful garden to wander around, being full of nooks and crannies which make it seem much bigger than it really is.
The garden is open on just a few weekends each year to raise money for various charities.