Cornwall LivingIssue #74

Cornwall in bloom

Nothing beats a leisurely stroll through one of Cornwall’s beautiful gardens. Here are just a few ideas of places to visit this summer.

It’s a fact. Getting outside is good for you. There’s a real transformative nature in simply filling your lungs with fresh air, taking in the birdsong and enjoying a leisurely stroll through the countryside. Fortunately countryside is something that Cornwall is blessed with a lot of, and with our many gardens in bloom, why not see for yourself this summer?

“It’s subtropical, verdant, and larger than life; full of form and structure.”

A visit to a garden makes the perfect family day out – a great way to bring everyone together, and ideal for young families to enjoy a picnic in a contained environment. More importantly, what better excuse for enjoying a cream tea in a beautiful setting?

Cornwall’s unique microclimate provides the perfect conditions for rare, exotic and subtropical plants to thrive, many of which you won’t find in other parts of the UK. As TV gardening expert Matt James recently told us: “Cornwall has a warmer climate compared to many parts of the UK, but a wetter one too, so the palette of plants is very different. It’s subtropical, verdant, and larger than life; full of form and structure.”

The sheltered south coast in particular has a huge concentration of gardens, stretching from the mouth of the Helford river all the way up beyond St Austell. You’ll find verdant landscapes replete with large ferns and palms, great collections of camellias, and luscious valley gardens such as Trebah and Glendurgan that cascade down to the water’s edge.

Many of these collections of rare plants have origins in the travels of explorers and horticulturalists of years gone by, who brought back exotic specimens from distant lands, and found the Cornish climate to be perfect for them to thrive. These collections have matured and steadily been added to over the years, becoming the world-class gardens they are today.

Trebah Garden, Mawnan Smith

One most certainly to put on your list is the subtropical paradise of Trebah Garden in Mawnan Smith, on the edge of the Helford just outside of Falmouth – neighbour to the equally magnificent National Trust managed Glendurgan.

When we met Matt James earlier this year, he waxed lyrical on the wonders of Trebah. “I love coastal gardens – they demand careful thought… I find places like Trebah Garden really inspiring,” he explained. “I sway towards natural, relaxed and atmospheric design, adopting a plants-first approach.”

We catch up with Trebah’s Head Gardener, Darren Dickey, to discover more. “Trebah really does have a unique wow factor,” says Darren, “boasting spectacular valley views to the Helford river beyond at the start of your journey into a ravine of mass planting, before emerging onto our very own private beach with crystal clear waters. Trebah has been designed to have interest and colour all year round, with the water garden and giant rhubarb (Gunnera) being just two of our summer must sees in the garden.”

Complete your tour of the garden with a stop at Trebah Kitchen, serving delicious home-cooked delights. A more recent addition to the garden is the wonderful amphitheatre, home to fantastic open-air theatre and live performance over the warmer months. Discover more about Trebah’s summer programme here.


The Lost Gardens of Heligan, St Austell

With such an evocative name, you’re simply compelled to discover more about the Lost Gardens of Heligan – a stroke of marketing genius! Owned by the Tremayne family for centuries, Heligan Estate was once home to thriving, pretty gardens. Yet the land on the estate gradually turned to disrepair and became overgrown in the early to mid-20th Century, accelerated in large part by the lack of men to work the ground during the two World Wars, and the house’s acquisition for the respective war efforts. Within a generation or so, almost all trace of the former gardens had disappeared. It was only a chance discovery of small room in the derelict walled gardens on the estate in 1990 that sparked the regeneration project to bring them back to their former glory. And Cornwall is all the better for it.

A day out at Heligan is a real adventure for all the family, with acres of land to explore and a huge variety of styles and plant species, contrasting dramatically from the structured Victorian Productive Gardens to the wild and wonderful Jungle.

Elle Thackham of Heligan tells us: “There is so much that is special about The Lost Gardens of Heligan, but for me it’s the unusual elements of the garden such as the Pineapple pits and the Jungle. It’s amazing what we can grow right here in Cornwall.”

Incidentally, the gardens’ rediscovery and regeneration owe a lot to Sir Tim Smit, the man who was instrumental in creating the neighbouring Eden Project – another spectacle on the outskirts of St Austell that you simply must visit. That two of Britain’s most awe-inspiring gardens are within such close proximity to each other is testament to both Cornwall’s horticultural excellence and the inspiring people who have helped shape these amazing spaces.

Heligan is also home to Kneehigh Theatre’s Asylum. Discover more about upcoming summer events here.


Trengwainton Gardens, Penzance

The National Trust manages a range of beautiful country homes and gardens across Cornwall, from the grand houses of Trelissick and Lanhydrock, both of which boast equally impressive grounds, to the aforementioned subtropical valley garden Glendurgan, complete with its own maze – fun for both children and adults alike.

Another you may not have heard of – but should really seek out – is Trengwainton, one of the most southwesterly gardens on the mainland. Trengwainton is a lush paradise, awash with colour at this time of year. Typical of National Trust managed properties, Trengwainton is particularly family friendly, will excellent facilities and a fabulous café. With plenty of good paths, Trengwainton is particularly accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. There’s even an all-terrain mobility scooter available to hire on site. Dogs are also welcome on leads, so you needn’t leave any of the family at home!


Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, Penzance

For something just a little different, there’s Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, on the outskirts of Penzance, beautifully combining natural foliage with manmade sculptures to great effect. Ali Braybrooks of Tremenheere tells us: “Tremenheere Sculpture Garden is set in a beautiful sheltered valley overlooking St Michael’s Mount. The unique blend of landscape, planting and work by international sculptors provides an inspirational place for contemplation and wonder.”

Tremenheere is a truly inspiring and thought-provoking garden, where you can appreciate art on a large scale in a unique setting. A beautiful, oak-framed art gallery was also added to the site recently, and there’s a fantastic kitchen serving scrumptious food too.


Bonython, Lizard peninsula

Bonython, just outside of Helston on the Lizard peninsula is a pretty estate centred upon a charming Georgian manor house, sitting in beautiful gardens and grounds. Owners Richard and Sue Nathan have devoted much time and energy into maintaining and enhancing the grounds, creating a haven for all to enjoy. As Sue Nathan has said, “I have put so much of myself into the garden, and it has given me so much joy, that I want to share it with others.”

The team at Bonython give us a tantalising taster of what you can expect on a visit: “Indulge in the enchanting atmosphere of what was a traditional garden and, over the last 18 years, has now become passionately infused with innovative planting to become one of the most interesting gardens in the south west. Magnificent in spring with traditional Cornish Rhododendrons, azaleas, woodland flowers and bulbs, colour continues to improve through the summer with soft and gentle harmonies of the herbaceous beds to explosions of hot colour in the South African areas with drifts of ornamental grasses, cannas, rudbeckias and proteas. A ‘must see’ for all seasons.”


Discover More

As ever, we’ve just given a small taster of Cornwall’s many beautiful and varied gardens. It’s true, we could easily have chosen an entirely different list altogether. Yet with so many to choose from, we hope our selection gives a flavour of what to expect and spurs you on to discover Cornwall’s many gardens on your own.

Here are a few more ideas:

Eden Project

• Trelissick

• Godolphin

• Pinetum Gardens

• Glendurgan

• Lanhydrock

Potager (Click here for our restaurant review)


Discover More

There are some inspiring things happening today in the field of landscape gardening and design today, as we discovered when we met landscape architect Elizabeth Staveley of LandArc. Find out more in our feature here.

"It’s subtropical, verdant, and larger than life; full of form and structure.”