The design of the garden has evolved over the past two years. It has been influenced by:

  • Funding for structures, plants, seeds and tools;
  • Ideas from all the garden volunteers and also park users;
  • Ideas and advice from Guy Belcher, colleagues at Streets and Open Spaces and from going to courses on wildlife-friendly gardening;
  • The results of our experiments in growing;
  • Offers of free plants from local gardens - including the Botanic Garden. 

Most recent plan of the garden.(18 July 2018 - version 26)

Coming soon...

  • During Summer 2018, we are making a new woodstore.
  • In September 2018, we hope to have a new shed, for tools. Then we can make the existing club hut more cosy - with less spiky tools.
  • In Spring 2019, we hope to have a new paved area with green-roofed veranda to the front of the club hut.

Recent progress

Since late September 2016, there have been lots of changes, funded by a S106 grant and also donations from park users. We have new ramps down into the green area, new paths, a water supply, a new gate, noticeboard, raised beds and a pond with a woven hazel fence around it.

We have also made structures from hazel rods, such as a living willow circle, wigwams and a turf throne.

We have also made new spaces for planting and are moving towards having more perennial plants for interest all year around - including to wildlife. 

Working from the soil upwards...

Much of our potential planting area is a former bowling green, so our substrate is quite unusual.

  • From several test digs and lots of working with it, it is heavy clay, with a layer of 'clinker' of varying thickness and sometimes some hardcore and then a spade-depth of introduced homogenous, compacted, sand-rich top soil, full of grass roots. This top layer is easy to cultivate with hand tools but dries out very quickly. It is difficult to wet once dry. It improves with the addition of soil conditioner and garden compost. 
  • Around the green area, we have soil typical to this area of Cambridge - lots of clay, chalk with rough turf. This can become waterlogged in the winter but, generally, dries out quickly.

We collect as much water as possible from our only roofed structure, the club hut, and hope to collect it above the new water tower 'Falling Water'. We'd like to collect even more: see our 'water page'. We now have a mains water supply, which we can use with a hose, which has made a great difference to our growing ambitions.

Chemical use in the garden

The green will have been intensively treated over the past 50 or so years. Since 2014, we haven't used any chemicals except to prepare the annual meadow beds (see below) and we use a few organic slug pellets for a few days when we have put some baby plants in the ground.

  • In Spring 2015 and 2016, annual planting beds were glyphosate treated, then ploughed or rotavated before seeding with mixtures of annuals. We would like to become far less dependent on using glyphosate but also still benefit from the annual Pictorial Meadow beds. In 2017, we prepared the seeded beds mechanically, without glyphosate, which was relatively successful but hard work for our diggers. In Spring 2018, we will use glyphosate again for the meadow beds - or we won't be able to grow the meadows - there is just too much grass in a small amount of light soil.

See Working with nature page.

Early aspirations

It is proposed to create: ‘an informal, natural, community green-space for the inclusive enjoyment and demonstration of biodiversity, sustainability, creativity, gardening and food growing’
— Summary document, circulated to Friends of Nightingale Park members in July 2015 and formed part of two applications for S106 funding in August 2016.

For this project, we had an overall collection of aspirations for the garden (see 'quote') and lots of ideas  from existing and potential park users about what they would like to see and do in the space:

  • Some of these were feasible.
  • Some popular.
  • Some of them could be done without extra funding, using donations and ingenuity.
  • Some could probably be done but not yet.
  • Some, like turning it into an outdoor swimming pool or skate park, we haven't considered because we think more people would not like this to happen and it would be very expensive. 
  • Some people just wanted it to be a bowling green again, but we have been advised that this wouldn't be technically possible and there are other clubs with much better (all-year-round) facilities nearby, including at Abbey, 'Brooklands Avenue', Cambridge University Press (about to cease), Coleridge Park and Trumpington (Bowls Cambridgeshire).


We have started and completed a number of features with more planned (to do list). Some of these are dependent on finding resources (wishlist).

We aim to decide, as a group of volunteers, what to plant, but we also didn't want to make too many decisions in the early days so more people could be involved over time. And if we got it wrong, we could just move things around.

The central grassed area

Some people have suggested sculpture, trees, (human) sundial, labyrinth, firepit or seating at the centre of the green to give a focus. But the simple grassed area:

  • Has been well used by people of all ages - it encourages people to enter and meet.
  • Can be a place to put up an event tent with a stall, toast marshmallows in a firebowl, have a picnic on the grass, draw a spiral, set up a moth trap... make human arches, handstands, sing and dance, do Tai Chi etc.
  • Is easy to maintain.

More people seem to like the open area than not.

Paths in the former green area

When we first designed the paths, we wanted sufficient to get into the meadow areas but not too many that we lost flower an growing area. We also thought it would be good to see if we provided a circular path, people would run around it or just meander. By observing people and talking to them:

  • Some children called it the 'Flower maze' so more paths are probably good. So we have added lots more paths inside the green area for better accessibility.
  • Children like to run, chase and hide in the paths, so different directions of interconnecting paths with different heights of planting is good. In 2017, children did seem to be running around the beds even more than before. We have made wigwams and a living willow circle and aimed to increase the height of planting for more areas to hide.
  • Mobility scooters could use most of the paths in some weather without making complicated turns. Non-powered wheelchairs would struggle on some paths in some weathers. Now we have ramps and wider paths with rounded corners, access is improved.
  • People and dogs made desire lines through the larger beds so we have used this knowledge to make some new grass paths. Now we have more wildlife, and a self-closing gate, we are stricter about loose dogs.
  • The original annual beds had a thistle and fat hen problem, which competed with the flowers - they were so wide it was very difficult to get to the unwanted plants - so we have made them less wide by adding new wheelchair-friendly paths. We also made stepping stones so children can move through the perennial borders and also so we can weed from them.

In the longer term

 A cob oven in a community garden in Nottingham, used to make pizzas.

A cob oven in a community garden in Nottingham, used to make pizzas.

Food and cooking: it would be great to have a covered area where people at events can meet to eat and drink and make things.

We'd love to make a cob oven, especially using the clinker we dug up making the nature pond and from the bowling green in general. Probably a project for 2018 or 2019.

In the meantime, there is a strict ban on BBQs and bonfires in open spaces, unless in designated areas (Council webpage).

Plant supports: these are good for the health of plants but also give some height to the garden and can give shade. We have made semi-temporary ones to grow annual veg, like runner and climbing beans and a donated passion flower. These are very popular to pick and eat, look fun and are really good for pollinators.  We have also been given a rose arch and planted it with two roses in mid 2017 as part of a scented mini garden.

Last updated: 18 July 2018