On a recent trip to Cornwall we visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan. The gardens are located in St Austell, near Mevagissey and their contact information is:
Tel/textphone : 0044(0)1726 845100
Fax : 0044(0)1726 845101
We paid £10 each as an adult to get in and our little girl was free. There was a fairly big car park at the gardens and we actually had to park in the overflow on a grass field as it was quite busy that day although once in the gardens which are over 200 acres you tend to feel pretty much on your own which is lovely.
The story of the gardens is an interesting one. They are called the Lost Gardens as for many years after the First World War they were neglected and were only restored in the 1990's. They are part of the Cornish Tremayne Family's estate and are now open for people to visit.
When we first entered the gardens we were given a nice little leaflet for our little girl so she could follow her own little nature trail and look for signs and then read about the corresponding information. I found this a really nice thing to give to kids and something that will spark their interest in nature and keep them entertained on a day out. What I loved about the gardens was that you could just wander about and explore all the different parts to the garden. Parts of the garden were very steep though so if you find it hard to walk there were parts that weren't great. However, having said that I did see signs saying if you had a wheelchair or pushchair there were other trails you could take.
One of my favourite parts of the garden was the Jungle. This was described as a garden having, "a riot of luxuriant foliage, outstanding trees, exotic plantings and inspiring views, drawing the imagination on a journey far from our temperate shores." There was a wonderful wooden boardwalk that snaked around this hidden garden that you walked along past ponds and wonderful trees and foliage. Apparently according to the signs of information about it some of the undergrowth was so hard to remove that they had to build this boardwalk over it instead of removing it.
There is always something interesting to see when you are just wandering around the gardens. They have a number of plant sculptures hidden around the garden to look for such as a giant head and also a lady made out of mud lying down in one of the beds you pass. The highlight of the gardens though are the massive rhododendrons which are planted throughout the garden. Unfortunately these are the best in the spring time so we missed out on the massive 10 feet tall bushes but I have see pictures and they are truly amazing. There are other smaller rhododendron bushes that you can still see which give lots of colour and beauty to the garden.
For visitors there are a number of nice places to eat throughout the garden. We ate at the Stewardry Tearoom which is a wonderful old building with lots of picnic benches to sit on out side. They had a nice selection of sandwiches, local crisps, bakery goods, tea, drinks etc and lunch for two of us came to £12. The tearoom is
also home to an exhibition of artworks by Charles Tunnicliffe and Stanley Anderson, depicting traditional working rural scenes. There is also a tearoom with indoor and outdoor seating. Like any gardens there is also a really nice gift shop selling the usual sort of things you find at a garden like nice cards, children's toys, gardening books, candles, lotions etc and at the back of this there is a plant shop where you can take some of the gardens home with you.
This was a lovely day out and one I definitely recommend if you are in the area.
It’s a sad state of affairs in the Mad Wicca household that, due to illness and financial commitments, Mr. Mad Wicca and myself have been unable to take regular summer holidays for some time. But don’t feel sad for us dear Dooyoo-er, we don’t really mind; well, not that much. We get the occasional day away to tramp through the countryside looking for stones all standing in a circle, at which we ooh and ahh, while our dog, Molly, runs around sniffing things. Sometimes we all pile into the car to go and look at that wet, brown thing that surrounds our country, stick our feet in it, then go back home. We console ourselves with the fact that we don’t have to pack and unpack cases until they are the required weight, get up at three in the morning to travel to a crowded airport and wait five hours for our flight, we don’t have to fiddle about changing our pounds into bits of paper that have us baffled, learn how to say ‘where can I purchase a pair of flip-flops’ in twenty different languages, pack and unpack our cases with all the clothes we’ve taken, plus the ones we’ve bought whilst there, and souvenirs and still be below the required weight for air transport when returning home. Yes, we may be missing out on all the delights that many countries have to offer, but at the moment holidays abroad are just not a possibility for Mr. Mad Wicca and me. So when my wonderful, kind mother asked if I would like to accompany her on a four-day coach holiday to Cornwall, taking in the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, I packed my bag, kissed Mr. Mad Wicca goodbye and set off on my Summer Holiday! I won’t bore you with our excruciatingly long, cramped journey down to Cornwall, nor the fact that, at 30, I was probably the youngest person on the trip, or the excruciatingly long, cramped journey home. But I would like to share a day of my holiday with you in what must be one of the most mag
ical gardens in England. In my family only Mummy Mad Wicca and myself truly love gardening. My two sisters have no interest whatsoever, Daddy Mad Wicca tends to pass plants he has pulled up to Mummy Mad Wicca and ask ‘Is this a weed?’ Mr. Mad Wicca enjoys smelling the flowers and listening to the trickling of our ‘water feature’ but thinks of actual gardening as ‘Mrs. Mad Wicca’s territory’ which is fine with me. A trip to a garden centre is ‘a fun day out’ for Mummy Mad Wicca and me. We love to ‘potter’ around our gardens, pottering taking many forms such as digging ponds, sawing dead branches from trees, building brick walls, laying a patio. Neither of us can sit still in a garden for more than five minutes; ‘I’ll just go pull that weed up’ we both chorus, and then spend the rest of the day widening borders and relocating plants. For us gardening is fun. But for me it’s a little more than that. I learnt my love of gardening from Mummy Mad Wicca; it’s a hobby that means we get to spend time together, time that we both thoroughly enjoy. So who better for us both to visit Heligan with than each other? When our coach arrived in the car park of Heligan our holiday guide advised us that a trip to the toilet before our adventures was wise, as once exploring the gardens it is a long walk back if you ‘feel the need’. So taking up this good advice Mummy Mad Wicca and I headed off to the conveniences, which are handily located off the car park just as you enter Heligan. Now I have a ‘thing’ about public toilets, in that I can’t bear to use them. I would rather have to endure a three-hour journey home, legs crossed and bladder reaching bursting point, than use a public toilet. However, I was very surprised with Heligan’s loos. They were very clean, didn’t smell of bleach and had some very nice pictures of flowers
grown in the garden on the wall. There was also a toilet provided for those less able-bodied than others. Let’s just say I used them and found them very pleasant, for a toilet that is. Heading back to join the group in the car park I noticed a sign saying that dogs on leads were welcome at Heligan, and for a moment I wished I could have had Molly with me, I’m sure she would have enjoyed the walk as much as I did. But I didn’t, I had Mummy Mad Wicca, who doesn’t need a lead, well, not all the time. The thing is Mummy Mad Wicca, whilst not a pensioner, is not as young as she used to be. Having been diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago she tends to get worn out quite easily now, and as the gardens cover about 180 acres we had decide not to head down into the lower parts, such as the Jungle and Lost Valley. I would have liked to experience them but the thought of carrying an exhausted Mummy Mad Wicca back up the sloping landscape decided me against it. Heligan do provide wheelchairs for those who can’t get about, brilliant for sitting on Mummy Mad Wicca’s knee and having a good long freewheel down some of the garden paths, but I would have been the one straining to get it back up the hill, Mummy Mad Wicca clutching our bags and pointing out interesting ferns, so we abandoned that option too. Back in the car park the coach group was split into two as we were to be taken on a guided tour. This cost us £1 each, an absolute bargain and well worth it as the tour lasted almost two hours, and we learnt many things that aren’t in the guide book. The guided tour only takes in the Northern garden but is a brilliant introduction for anyone that has never been before and I would certainly recommend you take it. Our tour guide was very friendly and admitted right at the beginning that she was not a very keen gardener herself, so while she wasn’t very up on plants she would still try to answer as many qu
estions as she could. Mummy Mad Wicca stopped off in the restaurant (of which more later) to purchase some sandwiches, ‘to keep my blood sugar up!’ and then our tour began. We all gathered under a huge old tree, that had a pair of handy benches underneath, watched two squirrels chase each other around the tree’s branches and then played ‘guess what the tree is?’ No one could and I’m not going to tell you what species it was here, as a lot of people were quite surprised when the tour guide told us, although Mummy Mad Wicca said that she knew, the guide just hadn’t given her enough time to say before blurting it out. Hmmmm… Whilst standing in the shade of this magnificent tree the guide gave us a history of the house and gardens, along with some fascinating stories of the plant collectors that had been sent out to acquire specimens for them. Situated near the fishing village of Mevagissey, Heligan had been in the Tremayne family for many hundreds of years. Over this time the garden grew to cover almost 1,000 acres, and some of its most unusual and interesting features were designed and updated by generation after generation of gardening Tremayne Squires. The Reverend Henry Hawkins Tremayne was Squire from 1766-1829, and during this time he became the first Tremayne to study the families garden. Eventually he drew up a plan and, with the help of employees, he laid the foundations for the garden we see today. When Henry’s son, John Hearle Tremayne, took over from his father in 1829, he began to build up the garden, adding large scale planting of exotic plants around the Northern Garden and along the Main Drive during his 22-years as Squire. In 1851 John Hearle Tremayne’s son, also named John, became Squire, and inherited his ancestors love of gardening. During his time he developed much of what is know as ‘the Jungle’ and added many of the hybridised rhododendron
s, some of which have still not been identified to this day. When John died in 1901 the estate was passed on to his son John Claude ‘Jack’ Tremayne, who was Squire until 1949. Jack took on his fathers work in the gardens and further developed the Jungle, also adding the Alpine and Italian Gardens to the estate. But even with all Jack’s hard work the gardens could not withstand the ravages of time. With the size of the gardens it took an army of men to keep them in top condition and when the First World War broke out many of them went off to fight, never to return. The upkeep of a garden as large as Heligan was just too much for a now greatly reduced staff, and so it was decided that only a small area near the house should be used for flowers and vegetables, the rest would have to look after itself. The house and grounds were still in the possession of the Tremayne family but during the First World War they decided to move to an estate they owned in another part of the country, and the house was used as a shell-shock hospital for officers. After the war the house was split into separate apartments and the greater part of the garden neglected. During World War Two American troops took over the house and grounds, installing tanks on the lawns and using many of the garden’s statues for target practice! When the war ended the house went back to being private apartments and the garden remained forgotten. Gradually the weeds and brambles took over; paths and buildings became lost under a tangle of branches, and many of the plants that the Tremayne’s had imported and cultivated were swamped. The garden lay like this for many years, waiting, growing, hiding its existence from all but the local community, many of who were conceived among its ancient roots. In the early 1990’s Tim Smit and John Nelson ‘re-discovered’ Heligan. Together they hacked their way through the undergrowth, coming acros
s derelict, crumbling buildings and overgrown exotic plants as they went. It became the two men’s passion to restore the garden back to its former glory, and with much voluntary help and many grants over the years that is what they have managed to do. You see, I was listening to the tour guide! She also told us about the plant collectors who were sent off to far-flung corners of the globe to bring back mature plants and seeds for this garden and many others. As you can imagine, some of the native people of these lands didn’t like strange, pith helmeted gentlemen uprooting their trees and carting them off, and many of the collectors were tortured and killed by these tribes. After these violent revelations we all tottered around to The Northern Summerhouse, appreciating a little more the exotic plants growing all around us. The Northern Summerhouse is a medium sized courtyard garden, with a little place for a sit down and a stunning view over its hedged edge. The hedge is quite high so don’t worry about falling off the edge! A section of the hedge has been clipped back so that you can peer over to some stunning views of Mevagissey Bay below, even if you don’t have a good head for heights I would recommend you take a quick peak over as it’s something not to be missed. The Summerhouse is rather handy for a quick sit down and if you look on the wall inside you will see a series of photographs depicting how this part of the garden looked when it was found and the restoration work that took place to return it to its natural beauty. As you travel about the garden you will find such photos on many of the buildings, giving you a sense of how the neglected garden appeared to Smit and Nelson when they first came upon it and all the hard work and dedication that has followed. From the Northern Summerhouse we strolled around to Flora’s Green, a huge expanse of lawn surrounded by massive, towering rhododendron
s, unfortunately not in flower when Mummy Mad Wicca and me visited. When the garden came to be restored Flora’s Green was sown with grass seed twice, but both times it failed to take. Then it was discovered that the American troops had concreted over this area to store their tanks on and the concrete still remained. In the end it was decided to turf the area over and that grew away quite happily. It is a lovely part of the garden, just right for a sit down and a picnic, but we had a tour to get on with so there were no such luxuries for us. From Flora’s Green our guide led us to the Vegetable Garden. Here we walked down a path with many young apple trees growing on either side, and one of the first things that I noticed were all the wall flowers blooming around us. Not only are the beds used for vegetables but also any extra space is filled up with seasonal blooms. In the past these flowers helped to disguise the smell of the manure used on the vegetables, seaweed from the Bay and ‘night soil’ from the toilets. There certainly wasn’t a whiff of that when we were there! This part of the garden was quite busy, with gardeners weeding and picking produce, some of which we saw for sale later in the garden sales area. Still, one of the gardeners did find time to take a break from his work and have a word with the group, answering many of our questions, which I thought was rather nice of him. He told us quite a good little story about the reason why the broad beans are grown in long double rows. Apparently one of the Victorian ladies of the house did not like to see her servants at work in the garden, and so whenever she decided to take a stroll through the vegetable patch the gardeners had to stop what they were doing and go in-between the tall broad bean plants, hiding until the lady had passed through! Today the vegetable plots are dug over using a double digging system, which Mummy Mad Wicca informs me is ‘
;backbreaking work!’ Double digging means that you dig the soil over once using a spade, and then go back and dig it over again with a fork, turning over the soil beneath the depth that the spade reached. Oooo, no thanks! I’m not really a vegetable grower but I still found it fascinating to have a look around the vegetable gardens and see all the hard work that goes into the production of crops. From here we went on into the Melon Garden, comprising a pineapple pit, cold frames, a greenhouse, potting shed, fruit store, dark store, bothy and thunder boxes. This really is a rather charming part of the gardens, although there are not so many plants to be seen. I rather liked the squat brick buildings and the feeling that this was the true productive heart of the garden still seems to linger in the air. I could just imagine those gardeners of years ago trundling their wheelbarrows through the yard, checking the ripeness of the pineapples in the pit, or standing at the long potting bench transferring plants from one pot to the next. Our guide told us all about how pineapples were grown in the pit, which was very complicated for a fruit we seem to take so much for granted today. It would take an age to explain it to you here, but let’s just say racehorse manure and a lot of luck are involved! It’s taken them a while but the gardeners of Heligan have worked out once again how to produce pineapples in this way. The second one they grew was sent as a gift to the Queen, the restoration team, just to make sure they actually tasted like pineapples and not racehorse manure, sampled the first one! We had a little look through the greenhouse door and I was surprised to see cucumbers hanging down in rows from the ceiling where the plants had climbed. The potting shed had a very ‘used’ feeling about it, which I liked. All the tools the gardeners use, old and new, are hung up on one wall next to a great stack of terracott
a pots. The opposite wall is taken up with a long wooden bench, above which Mummy Mad Wicca and me discovered a bird’s nest, complete with eggs. We couldn’t tell if this was real or just added for effect, as we didn’t want to touch the eggs, either way it did add a certain something to the place. The bothy is a small room above the ‘thunder boxes’ where one of the apprentice gardeners would sleep at night. This was so that he could check on the temperature of the pineapple pit, which had to be just right, throughout the night. All the room contained was a small straw mattress and a lantern, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to spend long winter nights up there by myself. Directly underneath the bothy are the two ‘thunder boxes’ or toilets, as we prefer to call them now. It was here that quite an important and touching clue to the old gardens was found. When Smit and Nelson reached this part of the garden they managed to hack their way into the bothy. With only the light from a match they found carved on the wall names of some of the gardeners, with the date they had left the garden to head off to the trenches of the First World War. Smit later looked up some of the names on war memorials around the local area and matched them up too the dates they had died. There is a picture on the wall in these toilets displaying the names, but as hard as I looked I couldn’t see them on the actual walls. This may be impart to do with the fact that the building was almost collapsing when it was found and had to be taken down and built back up. I doubt the scratched names would have survived that. After a wander around the Melon Garden, poking our noses in and out of buildings, the group converged on Bee-Bole lawn, so named because it is where all the honeybees lived. A bee-bole is a thick brick wall with many little doors along its frontage. Behind these doors are small baskets, which are home to the be
es. Yes, Mummy Mad Wicca and me thought that bees had always lived in hives too, but apparently not. When this area had been restored bees were introduced back into the bee-boles but for one reason or another they had decided that it was not the best place for the bees. Although the bee-boles are still there, with baskets, the bees have been moved on. Our next port of call was the Vinery and Flower Garden. Sunglasses came into play here, as this is a veritable suntrap. Once again, it was amazing to see how dilapidated the vinery had been on its rediscovery, and how well restored it now was. Most of the glass panes had survived, which was quite lucky as they are an unusually shaped piece of glass that allows rainwater to run down the middle of the pane away from the wooden frames, thus preventing any rotting. When the garden was uncovered the grape vine inside was still growing away after 40 years of neglect, and so it was decided to just to trim it back and leave it to produce grapes, which it still does. As we moved on to the Sundial Garden we were coming to the end of our guided tour, and what better way to end it than in a typical English garden. The Sundial garden comprises a lawned area with flower borders on three sides and, surprise, surprise, a sundial in the middle. I’m not a fan of ‘typical English gardens’ and so it didn’t really do anything for me. There was, however, a large tree at the top of the garden called a Handkerchief Tree, the flowers of which do actually look like white hankies. Unfortunately it was not in flower during our visit but our guide informed us that there was a picture of one of the flowers in the ladies loos. I had a look on the way out and there was! From here we were allowed to roam about at will until it was time to be back at the coach. Where to start!? Mummy Mad Wicca and me had a quick shuffty of the map in the guidebook, but we found it a bit confusing and not very well expl
ained as to what was where. My tip for anyone visiting for the first time would be to stop at the shop on the way in and purchase a copy of Tim Smit’s book ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ priced at £7.99. In here you will find quite a few maps of the garden that are a lot clearer and easy to follow. It may seem a lot to pay out for a map I know, but once you have taken the tour you will want to learn more about this place and buy it on the way out anyway, like I did! We however did not have this excellent advice and so we decided to abandon the guidebook and just wander about, after all, that’s the best way to enjoy any garden. We headed back the way we had just come and on closer inspection of the bothy and thunder boxes discovered that if you kept going through them you came out onto a magical little garden. The pictures on the wall of the summerhouse we had stumbled into told us that we were now enjoying the Italian Garden. Of all the little gardens dotted about Heligan this was my absolute favourite, why I’m not sure; as it’s not the sort of style I usually go for in a garden. The summerhouse leads out into a small, paved garden dominated by a long square pond, with fountaining cherub in the centre. Flower borders surround this on both sides, and a tall hedge cuts off the bottom of the garden with a door clipped into it for access. To the side of the summerhouse grew the original kiwi fruit plant placed there many years ago by the garden’s designer, Jack Tremayne. I found this garden very relaxing, soothing almost, there was no instinct within me to jump up from my seat in the summerhouse, where Mummy Mad Wicca and I had plonked ourselves, and go pottering around the plants and pond. I found myself able to just sit and take it all in, in no hurry to move along. Mummy Mad Wicca decided this was a good opportunity to get stuck into the sandwiches she had purchased from the café earlier.
Even as we tucked into our cheese and pickle snacks people were streaming in and out of the Italian garden, inspecting the pictures on the wall next to us, yet I still felt as if I were sitting in a quiet, little suburban garden. At one point I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the tiled roof above us. Just as I did so a Swift swept into the summerhouse and disappeared into a nest poking out from between the tiles. This one I knew was real, as I could hear the little chicks chirping away inside. I pointed this out to Mummy Mad Wicca and we both sat for a while looking up at it. Eventually the sandwiches were finished off and we decided that we hadn’t come all this way to look up at the underside of roof tiles, so we moved on. We explored a few more greenhouses that are dotted about, some of which you can only look through the glass to see what’s inside, others you can actually walk through. The walk through ones seemed to mainly contain houseplants, but some rather stunning, well cared for varieties, which had me cooing ‘Oooo look at that one!’ and ‘Oh I’d love to take that home!’ One of the ‘through the windows only’ greenhouses contained an enormous banana plant, without bananas, but nevertheless very beautiful. I hadn’t watched the TV programmes depicting the restoration of Heligan, but I had heard that there was a crystal grotto and a whishing well to be found somewhere, and I decided that I would like to see that. As I say, the guidebook was no real help, so Mummy Mad Wicca and me strolled around, dodging down promising looking paths only to end up back were we had started. Eventually we turned off by a gigantic Gunnera and found a series of little steps that led down to the whishing well and, further on, the crystal grotto. The whishing well was actually just a shallow pool of dirty water, but I made a whish anyway. The crystal grotto was a bit more interesting, not
very sparkly, but I like having a poke around little caves so in I went and had a nosey. There wasn’t a lot of room on the paths that led to these two areas, more than two people and you have to rush your inspection and move on quickly. When I came out of the crystal grotto there were a few people waiting so we headed back up the path to the little stairs and decided to look for the farm area and the chickens. After much traipsing around, following the sounds of clucking hens, we hadn’t found it. Then Mummy Mad Wicca remembered that she had seen some Acers (her favourite plant) near Flora’s Green and so we headed that way, taking in a second look of the vegetable garden as we went. By this time we were ready for a drink and so we made our way back to the entrance where the café and gift shops are situated. Now, the sandwiches we had eaten earlier were really very nice and when you visit places like this you know that, whatever price they place on them, you are going to have to buy food. Being part of a coach tour we had no way of making our own pack up and I can’t say I was particularly outraged at the price of the sandwiches we bought. However, it was drawing to the end of our holiday in Cornwall and we still hadn’t had a cream tea, so we decided that we would have a sit in the café with one of these. The cream tea consisted of one scone, a small dollop of jam and cream and a cup of tea. Now, Mummy Mad Wicca and me don’t drink tea, preferring coffee, but this wasn’t available with the cream tea, and we did think that at nearly £4 it was an awful lot for very little cream tea. So we settled on a can of coke and a homemade ice cream at the stall outside. And very delicious it was. However, I’d just like to point out that as much as possible of the produce grown at Heligan is used in the café and what was on offer at the salad bar did look delicious and very healthy, we just weren’t in th
e mood for salad so we didn’t try it out. We took our ice creams through the plant sales area and settled down at a picnic table underneath a tree, with the woods behind us. For all we were near the plant sales area it was a very quiet spot and we took our time over the ice creams, even being joined by a squirrel and a blackbird, both coming right up to us when offered our cone crumbs. One of the ‘features’ with the café is that birds are forever swooping in and out to pick at the leftovers, so if you don’t like birds flapping past your head then you may be better off eating your food elsewhere. Whilst out in the picnic area Mummy Mad Wicca discovered where the bees from the bee-bole had moved to, the tree we were sitting under. Huge bumblebees droned past Mummy Mad Wicca’s head, down to the bottom of the tree trunk and disappeared into a knothole. Then a few minutes later another one, or it could have been the first one, so hard to tell with bees, would pop out and lazily fly away. Now, I could have watched this hive (geddit?) of industry all day but Mummy Mad Wicca didn’t like it and beat a hasty retreat towards the gift shop, and so I followed. As gift shops go this one was excellent, not a pixie or a Cornwall t-towel in sight. As expected the many books and videos about Heligan took pride of place at the front of the shop, but there were plenty of other books to browse through, not all on gardening by the way. I bought a very interesting book about old breeds of farm dogs that are now no more. Well *I* found it interesting. There was also a very good children’s gift section, but as I don’t have any children I didn’t take a very long look here. However, there were a lot of children in this area who all seemed to be fascinated by the toys and books. There is quite a large pottery section, with some lovely local pieces, and a craft area selling baskets and cross-stitch kits,
some of Heligan and its sister site the Eden Project. The cards and bookmarks sold here are quite extensive, as are the postcards and the prints of the gardens contained within Heligan. Mummy Mad Wicca didn’t purchase anything but I decided on a very nice mobile of little bees flying around a hive (£4.50), to remind me of watching the bees under the tree, a copy of the book ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ by Tim Smit (£7.99), so I could learn more about the history and restoration of the garden, and the book on farm dogs I was telling you about earlier (£1.50), because I find the subject interesting. We still had some time left so we decide to go back into the garden, which you can do if you are with a coach tour and are wearing a sticker. This time we followed one of the long paths down past all the gardens, stopping off for a look at the Ravine, which was not yet complete, but nevertheless had a little viewing platform you could step onto to see the work in progress. Back on the path we continued down towards the bottom of the Northern gardens, then skirted around the bottom and headed back up to the Northern Summerhouse for one last look at the view. It was back in the Northern Summerhouse that Mummy Mad Wicca offered to take a picture for an ‘in love’ young couple of them arm in arm under the Summerhouse, she’s good like that is Mummy Mad Wicca. Then we stood looking out over Mevagissey Bay and I don’t know what Mummy Mad Wicca was thinking, but I was musing over how much I had enjoyed the day. I was a bit tired and foot sore, and knew I would sleep well that night. Maybe I hadn’t got to see all of the gardens, there was still the New Zealand garden, Fern Ravine, the Jungle and the Lost Valley unexplored somewhere behind me; but I had seen enough for me to know that this garden truly was a wondrous place and that one day I would be back to explore it further. Eventually Mummy Mad Wicca an
d me pulled ourselves away from the beautiful view and headed out of the gardens. Before going back to the coach we had a wander around the plant sales area, neither of us able to resist plants for sale. We didn’t buy anything, mainly because we were travelling by coach and so space was limited and also because some of the prices were more than we felt we wanted to pay. However, there were a few ‘bargain bin’ plants whilst we were there, priced at as little as 50p each, but nothing caught our eye. We got back to the coach with, what we thought, time to spare, but as it turned out we were five minutes late, which meant a lot of tut-tutting and raised eyes from the blue rinse brigade we were travelling with. We didn’t care, five extra minutes spent in Heligan was worth any amount of scowls and tight lips this lot could throw at us. If you have never been to Heligan I would certainly recommend you pay it a visit, even if you are not a keen gardener, or interested in the restoration project, it is still a lovely part of the country and a good day out for all ages. Parking is free; as is access to the café, plant sales area and gift shop. If you are interested then they have a website www.heligan.com which will give you a taste of what the experience is like. The gardens are open every day of the year, apart from the usual Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and I would recommend you take either protective clothing or an umbrella with you, just in case the weather turns nasty. Our group was advised to wear sturdy shoes as the paths around the garden are made of compacted sand from the local bay. Never ones to listen to advice, both Mummy Mad Wicca and me wore open toed sandals and didn’t encounter any problems with stones or grit. However, if you were planning to go down into the Jungle or Lost Valley something a bit sturdier than this might be required. I’d also say don’t feel you have to rush y
ourselves to see everything, just take it at a leisurely stroll, even at that pace a full day is plenty of time to get around. The opening times of the garden are 10am – 6pm during the main season, with the last tickets being sold at 4.30pm. As the nights draw in during the winter months opening times are 10am – 5pm, last tickets sold at 3.30pm. Prices for adults are £5.50, with 50p knocked off that charge for senior citizens. Children under 5 get in free, those aged up to 15 pay £2.50, but if you are taking children then you may want to consider a family ticket for 2 adults and up to 3 children at £15.00. Group rates are available, of which there is more information on the official website, but if you’re travelling with a coach party then the entry fee is normally included in the cost of the trip. Throughout the year special events are held at Heligan, so if you live in the area or plan to be holidaying around there it is always worth checking the website regularly or giving them a call for information on these. Whilst Mummy Mad Wicca and me were visiting there was a heavy horse display taking place. We missed this, however, as we were too busy taking in the gardens, but I did see the rear end of a Shire horse going into a horse box! Just a reminder that the main house, and some of the smaller ones around the grounds, are privately owned and out-of-bounds to garden visitors. Also a couple of the roads in the garden are used by the private residents as access to their homes, so keep an eye out for traffic; although these roads are well sign-posted and the residents aware that the garden has many visitors. Most of all I hope you enjoy your visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan as much as I did, and I’d like to thank Mummy Mad Wicca for taking me with her so that we could enjoy it together. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 6EN. Telephone: 01726 845100, Fax: 01726 8
45101. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Judging by another opinion, I have just read, not everyone appreciates the Lost Gardens for what they are. But I guess this is what makes life interesting - we all see things differently. I think the gardens are fascinating and so must many others as this is now the most visited gardens in England. It's a story of discovery and of recreating something from our past. It's bringing history to life if you like. How can this not be of interest? The gardens were created towards the late 1700's and early 1800's by the Tremayne family. The actual manor house (now apartments) dates back to the 1600's. During the first world war the area was taken over by the War Department and was used as a convalescence home - for officers of course! In the 1940's the American army was billetted here as they rehearsed for the Normandy landings on nearby Pentewan beach. The gardens became neglected and sort of fell into a slumber, everything was frozen in a kind of time warp. All of the garden buildings simply remained and deteriorated with time. Nothing was untouched a living history awaiting to be awoken. In 1990 the garden was literally rediscovered and in 1991 work began to restore the gardens to their former glory - exactly as they had been created all of those many years ago. This was a massive undertaking but visitors can now visit these Lost Gardens and see exactly how gardens were designed and looked in the late 1700's. Heligan is set between St.Austell and Mevagissey in Cornwall and is open all of the year round. There is wheelchair access to a lot of the paths. Dogs are allowed, but on short leads. For up to date information there is a website :www.heligan.com The gardens are I suppose divided into two distinct areas, the Northern Gardens and the Jungle & Lost Valley. It needs at least half a day to visit everything properly. Needless to say there are toilets, tea room, icecr
eam and plenty of woodland seating if you prefer to take your own picnic. The Norther Garden has such sections as: The Vegetable Garden, where Victorian varieties and traditional methods are used. The benchmark date that has been recreated is 1860. The Northern Summerhouse which is the oldest building in the garden, shown on the plans of 1770. The Crystal Grotto. In the roof are set hidden crystals. The Melon Garden which in 1992 still had 34 mature self-set trees. Nature had kept the plants breeding waiting to be seen. There is also The Pineapple Pit, The Melon House, The Flower Garden, The Sundial Garden and much more. The Jungle & The Lost Valley can be seen and explored after a Woodland Walk. The jungle contains the largest selection of tree ferns in Britain with dozens of varities of bamboo. Fascinating to see. The Lost Valley is now also returning to it's former state and the scars are gradually healing. I'm sure I probably haven't given the gardens the full credit that they deserve so I'll quote the words written by George Plumptre in The Times: "Heligan is the garden restoration of the century and the place to know about". You now know about it, so go visit if you can.
Having spent a whole day wandering around the Lost Gardens of Heligan, I'm afraid that I left with mixed feelings. The first feeling was relief, the second was that I personally would have much preferred it had they stayed lost. Not that there weren't parts of the day which I enjoyed.I loved the 'homemade' ice-creams on sale at the garden's entrance, so much so that I forced myself to eat two of them.I found the walled vegetable garden with its neat, weed - free rows of every vegetable and soft fruit you can think of, a delight. I was fascinated by the pineapple houses and the glasshouses growing cucumbers and melons - not that we could actually see these because of condensation, but they said they were there and who am I to argue.There was also a lovely little summerhouse with far-reaching views. But the gardens themselves were a real let down. Initially we walked through a wood which contained several 'living sculptures' - allegedly.(We only managed to find two of them and they were disappointing). We visited the old pond area with it's muddy, uneven and dangerous footpaths and admired the black, brackish water. We got well and truly bitten by the attendant insect life too. In need of refreshment, we chanced upon a tearoom which appeared like an oasis in a bleak desert. It was closed. Next we took the river walk - muddy, with a steep uphill climb through some dank, dark woods to get back.And then we got lost! I don't mean the sort of lost where you have just momentarily lost sight of a footpath, but the sort of lost that makes you wish you had brought a tent and emergency food rations.Try as we might we could not find our way out and kept following path after path, going round in ever decreasing circles. In fact, it was only the thought of the homemade icecream that gave us enough hope to keep trying. We finally scrambled through some woods, across a road and found ourselves within si
ght of the main entrance again where, being a keen gardener,I decided that I would like to buy some plants. I changed my mind when I saw the prices. One particular plant that I took a fancy to cost £9.95 - I bought it from my local garden centre the following day for £3.50. A small tree, priced at £19.95 cost £7.95 at the same garden centre.To cap it all, the toilets that we visited on the way out were filthy. I don't wish to be unfair to this project so I will say this. The work there is still ongoing - it could well improve in time. I liked the fact that I was able to take my dogs in with me - however, being a responsible dog owner, I carried a plastic bag 'just in case'. It was more than obvious that other dog owners hadn't followed this unwritten rule. Many of the trails and paths were extremely muddy and slippery and this was in summer when we had actually had very little rain for a couple of weeks. The toilets were appalling, the plant centre prices were extortionate and there was a serious lack of signposts throughout. Suffice to say, I was disappointed.I have, however, promised to take some frinds there next year, a promise extracted only under great duress and with a bribe of as much ice-cream as I can eat. Perhaps we caught Heligan on a bad day. Hopefully things will improve as the work progresses. However, my abiding memory of the day remains the dozens of comlaining tourists we heard expressing their disappointment at a place which could be magical - but unfortunately isn't.
The story of The Lost Gardens of Heligan is compelling. In 1790, the Tremaynes developed 57 acres of their property as a series of wonderful gardens. During the 1st World War however the home was converted into a military convalescent home and most of its twenty plus gardeners enlisted. Along came World War II and the house was used by American soldiers, it was later converted into flats. Although the Tremaynes still owned the gardens, by now nature had taken hold, the gardens neglected and finally "lost".
In 1990 the estate was inherited by John Willis who together with archaeologist Tim Smit, his business partner John Nelson and a dedicated team made tentative inroads into what had by now become a jungle. The gardens were rediscovered and by 1992 parts were opened to the public and by 1995 most of the restoration was complete.
Heligan is now a real working, productive garden and is the most visited private garden in Britain. It has been described by The Times as "the garden restoration of the century".
I visited the gardens in September and although many of the summer flowers had finished, the autumnal feel was enchanting. Indeed the whole place has a somewhat eerie atmosphere. The gardens include such treasures as the vegetable garden, the ravine, the Italian garden and my favourite, the sundial garden.
Even if you are not mad about gardens you need to allow yourself at least half a day here as there are some excellent walks. Most people however seemed to be making a day of it. There are a number of picnic areas located in beautiful settings and there is an excellent restaurant, The Willows which serves food grown in the gardens and most of it organic. A tea room serves light meals and delicious Cornish pasties can be bought from the cafe which also sells clotted cream ice creams.
Most of the gardens are accessible by wheelchairs or push chairs except for The Lost Valley which is a wooded area and
strong walking shoes are required. Dogs are also allowed but only if kept on a lead as there is a variety of wildlife living amongst the gardens.
The Lost Gardens are open all year round and can be found at Pentewan, St. Austell. There is also a website www.heligan.com where amongst other items you
can purchase seeds and plants from the flowers cultivated there.