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Brief description of site

Nine Wells House used to have an extensive iris garden, planted by Sir Michael Foster. This was lost during World War II.

Brief history of site

Nine Wells House was established in the mid-19th century as a private residence.

Location information:

Address: Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, CB22 5JY

Locality: Great Shelford

Local Authorities:

Cambridgeshire; South Cambridgeshire; Great Shelford

Historical County: Cambridgeshire

OS Landranger Map Sheet Number: 154 Grid Ref: TL466538
Latitude: 52.163 Longitude: 0.141889

Key information:

Form of site: park

Purpose of site: Ornamental

Context or principal building: house

Site first created: 1840 to 1870

Main period of development: Mid 19th century

Survival: Extant


Nine Wells House gardens held the renowned iris collection of Sir Michael Foster.

Principal building:

House Created 1840 to 1870


Nine Wells House is a Victorian house set among trees along Granham's Road to the north of the village overlooking the Cambridge to London railway line, but gives no clues of its horticultural importance at the turn of the 19th century.

It is well known that dons and parsons were concerned with the first steps in the rise of the old simple flags to the present glories of the bearded irises. Sir Michael Foster (1836-1907) was an eminent Professor of Physiology at Cambridge University and also Secretary of the Royal Society. Foster grew over 200 irises collected from all over the world. His notebooks covering his observations from 1878 to 1902, accompanied by his lucid drawings, still exist. He was the first to publish descriptions of some of the species iris.

After collecting more eastern irises he became interested in crossing species to form hybrids. His records were made available to William Rickatson Dykes who wrote a monograph ‘The Green Iris' in 1913. Amos Perry, the north London nurseryman, marketed some of Sir Michael's iris. Foster was known for his quotation ‘Horticulture is a pious occupation' giving as his reason ‘The gods rejoice when they see a good man struggling with adversity'. He was among the first to receive the Victoria Medal of Honour from the RHS. Many good Eremurus Shelford hybrids (Foxtail Lilies) were also raised by Sir Michael Foster at Nine Wells.

Sadly the iris garden was neglected and lost during World War II and is no longer in existence.


Organisations associated with this site

Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust

Contributor or Recorder Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust


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