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Jesus College, Cambridge


A college garden built on the site of the Benedictine nunnery of St. Radegund in 1497. The gardens consist of: First Court, The Master's Garden and the Fellow's Garden, Back Court and Chapel Court.

Today, First Court is given over to lawns with a wrought-iron screen replacing the west wall. The walnut tree has been removed and a narrow border along the screen is planted with pelargoniums and also yews trained into bottle shapes. The Fellows' Garden contains fine examples of evergreen oak, mulberry and a magnificent cut-leaved plane, grown from seed in 1802 brought back from Thermopylae by Edward Daniel Clarke. Along the east wall is a shrub border containing Aristololochia durior commonly known as 'birthwort', thought to have been planted by the nuns. Along the west wall is a small timber summerhouse with pediment, placed between evergreens, which overlooks the bowling green lawn.

West of First Court is the Orchard which is really an arboretum containing a range of conifer, cedars, chestnuts, beech and yew. The grass is kept rough as it was historically grown for fodder. Amongst the trees are Second World War concrete shelters below ground which the gardeners use today for over wintering canvas and other half hardy bulbs. The Orchard leads round to Back Court where until recently the formal garden was planted with roses. These have now been replaced by lawn but the pairs of bottle shaped yews and the central walnut survive as a reminder of the 17th century layout.

Along the northern accommodation range are four small beds planted separately with grasses, ground cover plants and the remaining two with conifers. To the south-east corner a new St. Radegund garden has been planted with the apothecary's rose, bay and fruit trees. This is backed by a wide north facing border with viburnums, hellebores, box elder, ferns and bamboos.

Cloister Court is simple with a lawn and virginia creeper covering the cloister walls. In summer the cloister arches support fine hanging baskets.

To the east of this court is Chapel Court, another open ended space where pollarded limes along the wrought-iron screen have had to be removed because of disease. The large central lawn has variegated hollies at the corners and a cedar in the centre. The shrub border along the east facing range is now over 20 years old and to the south a lawn has a mature lime and sycamore tree. Around the east end of the chapel gravestones are to be found in the lawn.

Recently the College has built a new Library which is reached through a small garden off Chapel Court. This was part of the Master's Garden where a new path, evergreens and a curved yew hedge create an enclosed garden. The Master's Garden, now reduced, no longer serves as the College's vegetable, fruit and cut-flower source.

There is an east facing herbaceous border along the drive and a lawn with long narrow island beds containing flowering cherries and roses, dominated by a large plane tree. Along the Chapel wall is a herb garden where between the beds are rectangles of gravel with planted terracotta pots. A secret garden has been established by the south transept with circular paving made from clay flower pots. A Gothic seat is sheltered beneath a eucalyptus tree.

Jesus Close around the College buildings is used as a sports field. In a clockwise direction hockey pitches, tennis courts, cricket pitch, football and rugby pitches are laid out. Against the perimeter planting to the north is a thatched timber sports pavilion surveying the action.

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Jesus College was founded in 1497 by Bishop Alcock of Ely. He obtained leave from Henry VII to suppress the Benedictine nunnery of St. Radegund outside Cambridge and replaced it by Jesus College. The nunnery had at the time only two nuns. The College is set back from the road and approached between high parallel brick walls along a paved path known as the Chimney.

David Loggan's etching of 1690 shows part of the Fellows' Garden to the west of the Chimney with a lawn edged with alternating trees and shrubs (the trees drastically pruned). First Court, with a mature walnut tree in the centre of the larger lawn, is closed in by a high wall along the west side. To the north of this court is a formal garden enclosed by shrubs. In the centre of this garden is a topiaried yew within a small circular bed with narrow parallel plots arranged around the central circle. To the east of the Chimney is the Master's Garden which is laid out with formal lawns each with a central trimmed tiered yew. One of these lawns has a complicated knot pattern edged with low box hedges. To the north is the land once owned by the nunnery, and the sweep of Jesus Close towards the boundary planting along the stream that separates the College from Jesus Green.

Loggan's map of 1688 does not marry with the view of 1690. The Fellows' Garden is shown divided into four square lawns edged with trees with a Bowling Green to the west. First Court has the walnut tree but the lawn is dissected by six paths almost forming a star pattern across the grass. The formal garden with its circular centre remains the same, but the Master's Garden is shown with a series of rectangular plots growing fruit and vegetables. Outside Jesus Close to the north west is an area of six fishponds and a dovecote owned by the Master. By 1789 Custance had noted that the fish ponds and dovecotes were no longer owned by the Master, but had become Clarke's Nursery, although the dovecote still remained. The Fellows' Garden was now planted with several trees but the four formal lawns have been swept away.

Features & Designations


  • College (featured building)
  • Description: College built on the former site of the Benedictine nunnery of St. Radegund.
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  • Bowling Green
  • Lawn
  • Garden Seat
  • Description: A Gothic-style seat is sheltered beneath a eucalyptus tree.
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Orchard
  • Topiary
  • Shrub Border
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Key Information



Principal Building




Open to the public