What makes Cornwall so special? Is it the stunning beaches or the rocky granite outcrops? The wild moorland? The food? The culture? Whatever it is you love about Cornwall, here are some of Cornwall’s greatest gardens.
#1 Eden Project
Its aim is to be ‘one of the greatest destinations on earth’ and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s so much to see both inside and outside the massive biomes which sit like giant golf balls in the Bodelva Pit. If you only have time to visit one Biome, the Tropical Biome is sensational. It’s bursting with plants – you can see bananas growing, Truffula trees, Star Fruit, Rubber trees and the Sweet Thorn. Did you know that the Sweet Thorn’s leaves are eaten by giraffes while its thorns are used as needles? And if you get thirsty as you climb higher and higher on the canopy walkway, stop for a smoothie at the Baobab Bar. With the heat, the water crashing down the waterfall, the sounds of monkeys calling to each other in the trees and the birds singing, you are, for a moment, transported to the Tropics. There’s an amazing café that sells food from all over the World and by 2020, they hope to have finished the onsite hotel. It’s no wonder it calls itself the ‘Eighth Garden Wonder of the World’.
HISTORY: The Eden Project was the brain child of Tim Smit and was designed by Nicholas Grimshaw in 1997 at the cost of £37.5 million.
#2 The Lost Gardens of Heligan
If you ever wondered what a productive garden looked like in the Victorian times, then visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The Kitchen Garden, Flower Garden and Melon Yard are worked using the same methods as our Victorian predecessors and you can try out the delicious fresh produce in the Heligan Kitchen as well as buying heritage seeds to grow your own bit of history.
But there’s more to see at Heligan than the Walled Gardens. There’s a wonderful collection of camellias and rhododendrons in the Pleasure Grounds and don’t miss the Witches’ Broom, the Northern Summerhouse or the Sundial Garden. Explore the paths that lead deeper and deeper into the valley to the Jungle, cross the Burmese Rope Bridge and find exotics from places such as New Zealand and Sikkim. And at the bottom of the valley is the Georgian Walk which sets another challenge – how to find your way back to the top with only field names to guide you!
HISTORY: Heligan Manor is first mentioned in twelfth century and by 1569, the property was owned by Sampson Tremayne whose family are still involved with the estate today. A 1692 garden plan shows two rectangular grass areas in front of the house, flanked by ‘gravell walks’, leading down to the ‘Terras Walk’ with a ‘Wall for Flower potts’. Further work on the formal gardens was carried out at the beginning of the eighteenth century but by 1777, the formal gardens had gone and were replaced by an arcadian landscape with vistas from the house and a new plantation of trees and shrubberies lining the entrance to the house. Further additions were made to the garden in the nineteenth century as John Hearle Tremayne was an avid collector of exotic plants while his son created the Japanese Garden (now called the Jungle) below the house as well as the Italian Garden and Ravine. The house and garden fell into disrepair during the two World Wars, and it wasn’t until John Willis (a member of the extended Tremayne family) and Tim Smit met by chance in 1990 that the idea of restoring the garden took hold.
Although there is a buggy service, the best way to approach the magnificent Victorian house at Lanhydrock is to leave your car at the ticket office and walk – especially in the Spring when there are carpets of bluebells in the woods on your right. The house sits proudly in the landscape with the gloriously planted formal beds on the lower lawns with gravel walks leading up to the Higher Gardens with their specimen trees and shrubs. There’s lots to see at any time of year but look out for the camellias and magnolia tunnel in the Spring and the herbaceous border which was looking just as beautiful in the Autumn as it was during high summer.
HISTORY: Before the Reformation, Lanhydrock belonged to the Priory of St. Petroc, Bodmin. The estate was bought by Richard Robartes of Truro in 1620 and his son rebuilt the house and the gatehouse; the work was completed by 1651. The first surviving survey of the land, the Lanhydrock Atlas, was drawn in 1695 by Joel Gascoyne and was probably commissioned by Charles Robartes, 2nd Earl of Radnor. It shows a series of compartments to the east, north and north-west. Immediately to the East of the house was the Flower Garden and from here northwards, the Bowling Green, Pheasantry and Kitchen Garden. To the east of the Flower Garden was the ‘New Orchard’ followed by the wilderness which had various paths radiating through it.
According to records, money was spent on the garden in 1730s but the house was neglected and it was not until nineteenth century that the estate was saved by Anna Maria Hunt and her husband Charles Agar. In 1854, they commissioned George Truefitt to design an Italianate formal garden with geometric beds, steps and gravel paths near the house while George Gilbert Scott was paid to carry out essential structural repairs to the house. A devastating fire in 1881 destroyed much of the house which was later rebuilt using fireproof materials. After his elder brother died in the First World War, Gerald Agar Robartes inherited the property in 1930. He simplified the earlier garden designs and planted hundreds of pink and red roses. With no children, he gave Lanhydrock to the National Trust in 1953.
If you are anywhere near Helston, make sure you visit Godolphin, a fascinating fifteenth century house with an unusual double loggia on the north front supported by Tuscan columns – more suited to Italy than the depths of Cornwall. You can also stay in the house although be prepared to share it with its previous owners! Walking around the garden is a magical experience. The garden is at several levels with stone walls with grass – perhaps the hedges that young Francis referred to?[see below] – and it’s fun to try and decipher the hidden garden puzzles. The King’s Garden and the Cider Press have recently been restored with a camera in the latter to watch bats.
HISTORY: Much debate surrounds Godolphin House and its garden and as further manuscripts are discovered, more light will be shone on the puzzle. In 1478, William of Worcester described ‘Godollan Castle in Lodollan town ruined’ but by 1535, the house had been rebuilt by Thomas Godalcan [Godolphin]. We have a description of the estate in 1690 when Sidney Godolphin’s twelve year-old son, Francis, wrote to the diarist, John Evelyn:
Tis a large old house built of stone the front upon Pillers with flat Arches…[an] abundance of trees about it and a great deal of garden not walled but fenced with Hedges.
Eight years later, Francis married Lady Henrietta Churchill, heir to the Duke of Marlborough. Their son William died in 1731 without issue and therefore on Francis’s death in 1766, the property was inherited by their daughter Lady Mary, who was married to the Duke of Leeds.
The earliest plan of the garden is a 1791 estate map created for the Duke of Leeds, taken from a 1786 survey. To the right of the northern façade lies the King’s or Privy Garden which Charles I would have seen on his visit to Godolphin in c.1646 while to the South are what seem to be stands for watching the deer chase. The large side garden to the east of the house, is at a strange angle to the house which suggests that the later garden was built using the lines of the earlier medieval or Tudor Garden. This part of the garden is divided into nine compartments, separated by cross-walks and arranged in a three by three pattern – a reference to the Holy Trinity? The south-west compartment has a rectangular pond, probably for keeping fish while to the north-east there is a garden building. The Schofield family bought Godolphin in 1920s, and after restoring the house and garden, sold it to the National Trust in 2007. The NT are continuing the excellent restoration work.
There are several clues to Cotehele’s history dotted around the estate which makes a visit here all the more exciting. For example why are there two windows in the Tower Room but three can be seen from the ground? And why was a chapel built beside the stream in the fifteenth century? [Answers below!] The terraced gardens surround the house with a central rectangular pond in the middle terrace and a beautiful mixed border planted under the wall in the Upper Garden. From the south terrace, there’s a lovely circular walk to Cotehele Quay. The path follows the stream down the valley with mature rhododendrons and other ornamental shrubs flanking the route as well as the stew pond, a rustic thatched summerhouse, a domed fifteenth century dovecote, a holy well and the Chapel.
HISTORY: Sir Richard Edgcumbe and his son Piers made alterations to the house and laid out the garden in the fifteenth century, the bones of which can still be seen today. The chapel mentioned above, was built by Richard Egcumbe c1484, allegedly in thanks for his escape from Sir Henry Bodrugan [Trenowith], a Yorkist. The Rebellion to remove Richard III had collapsed and Bodrugan had been ordered to arrest Edgcumbe. After Edgcumbe’s hiding place in the woods was discovered, Edgcumbe in desperation, threw his hat into the river. Bodrugan believed that Edgcumbe must have drowned as he saw the hat float by and called the search off.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, Sir Piers Edgcumbe built a new house at Mount Edgcumbe [I’ll be writing about this garden later] which replaced Cotehele as the family’s principal seat. During the Civil War, Colonel Piers Edgcumbe returned to Cotehele and lived there until his death in 1667. I believe it was Colonel Edgcumbe who created the room in the Tower, as a hiding place from the Roundheads. [Look out for the panel behind the tapestry in the Tower Room – it’s open to the Public on ‘Behind the Scenes’ Days.] After the 5th Earl’s death in 1945, his son gave the property to the Nation in lieu of death duties; Cotehele was then passed to the National Trust.