The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

The Lost Gardens of Heligan are near Mevagissy, Cornwall . There are a number of outstanding gardens in Cornwall, but The Lost Gardens of Heligan attracts the most visitors because it is well marketed, and a great effort has been made to use the garden to explain the social history of Britain, as well as the pure garden aspects.

Lost Garden helegan cornwall gardens
Background
These gardens, near Mevagissy in Cornwall, have been restored and well marketed by Tim Smit. They have had a four part TV series on channel 4 in 1997, there is a best selling book on the "Heligan story", and there have been countless newspaper articles.
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They comprise eighty acres of pleasure grounds plus a complex of walled gardens and a huge vegetable garden. The house, built by William Tremayne in 1603, was the seat of the Tremayne family who controlled over 1000 acres in the area from Pentewan to Gorran. This Estate was totally self sufficient, having a number of quarries, woods, farms,  a brickworks ( the earliest in Cornwall in 1681), a flour mill, a sawmill, a brewery, and productive orchards and gardens. It is the gardens that are now claimed to be the site of the largest garden restoration in Europe. Heligan House (meaning "the willows" in Cornish ), was the Tremayne's seat, but is not part of the gardens project.
 
The gardens, created mainly in the 19th century, of were one of the finest gardens in England of their period, with 57 acres of planted gardens, around 100 acres of ornamental woodlands, and 300 acres of rides. Scattered throughout were follies and temples. Henry Hawkins Tremayne, John Tremayne and John Claude Tremayne in turn created and planted the gardens and ornamental woodlands with walks and rides. They were noted botanists and horticulturists and by the 1900 had a amassed a wonderful collection of trees and shrubs from all over the globe,  many of which can be seen today. It was the centre of the community with 20 house staff and up to 22 garden staff, with the local economy dependent on the estate for their income and parishes assisted by the Tremaynes benevolence.
 
When  World War I started in 1914, the male staff all signed up with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, with whom they served in the mud and trenches of the Western Front. Heligan House was taken over by the War Office and became a convalescent home for officers for the duration of the war. In the in the gardeners toilet or "thunderbox room." has been scratched into the plaster on the day that World War I broke out, the message "Come ye not here to sleep or slumber" and underneath it all the garden staff signed their a names.
 
At the end of the war only around 6 of the 22 garden staff survived the battles in Flanders to return to Heligan. The house was returned to the family in 1919. In the changed post war world the Tremaynes were not able to keep such a large staff, and decided in 1920 to rent the house out. The Williamson family rented it, were unable to maintain the gardens, which went on a gradual decline.
 
In World War II, the US army were allocated the house. Practice landings for D-Day took place on Pentewan Beach, a mile away. And after the war the next tenants were Commander and Mrs. Thomas, who lived there until 1970, when the tremaynes sold the house as flats. The gardens remained in the ownership of the Tremaynes, but nothing was done to them. They remained a time capsule, as they were not altered by any modernisation
There is a plant collection, a range of exotic glasshouses, and various buildings and landscaping that reflect the interests of the family in the past. The gardens were lost for many years under mountains of ivy, bramble and laurel. I know from experience in our own lost garden at Corisande that these weeds grow extraordinarily quickly in Cornwall.
 
Then in February 1990, a chance meeting between the Tremayne family member who had inherited the gardens (a John Willis) and  Tim Smit and John Nelson changed the history and direction of Heligan's gardens. Smit and Nelson got a lease on the gardens, researched their history, and raised money to restore the area.. A joint venture was established between the freeholder (a small Estate Company owned by the trustees of the Tremayne interests) and an operating company (controlled by Tim Smit and colleagues, including  John Nelson supervisor of the works.)

sub tropical                           cornish flowers

The Pleasure grounds
The pleasure grounds house rare and exotic shrubs, collected by plant hunters, from all over the world in the 19th century. There are lots of parts to the, the Northern Summerhouse with its sea views, the Italian Garden, the Fern Ravine, the Wishing Well, one of the finest beehole walls in the country and the Crystal grotto whose interior was lit by candles for romantic summer evenings.
 
Recently opened in 1997 is the walled sundial garden. And there is the vast herbaceous border described as the finest in England in Victorian times.
 
The 1839 tithe map has been used to restore the Ornamental garden paths. Two and a half miles of foot paths were discovered underneath more than 2000 tons of fallen timber, 18 inches of loam and a complete covering of 10 foot high brambles.
 
In the  Northern Gardens you will find
 
The Vegetable, flower and fruit gardens
Four walled gardens, complete with glasshouses, frames and pits, produced the flowers, fruit and vegetables for the Big House. Today Heligan once again produces over 300 varieties of fruit and vegetables. The melon garden even has a manure heated pineapple pit (quite naturally the only one remaining in the country). the glasshouses produce citrus fruit, grapes and peaches.
 
Also renovated have been the working side of the garden, the boiler houses, potting sheds, fruit stores and dark houses.
 
The Jungle
The Big House looks down the valley which eventually winds its way to the fishing village of Mevagissy. The Jungle was created to house a collection of sub tropical plants. A craze for collecting these exotic plants swept the country in the mid 1800's. This sort of sheltered valley, in Cornwall's mild climate, was ideal for housing such delicate plants. A series of four linked ponds, one above the other, has the plants grouped round them. Board walks have been created for the visitors to view these specimens without destroying the habitat. This is now the largest collection of Palms and Tree Ferns in the British Isles. Only in the frost-free valleys of Cornwall could this passion fulfil its promise. The boardwalks through this magnificent valley will take you on a journey far from our temperate shores.
 
The Lost Valley
The latest in the string of restorations. The area has a history of charcoal burning and Georgian rides, with a water meadow and restored lakes. Work is continuing in this area.

It was opened to visitors in 1998 to visit this native Cornish woodland - a circular walk of an extra mile now incorporates the Medieval Sunken Lane and additional sections of the original Georgian Ride.

Books
The Lost Gardens of Heligan Tim Smit
Heligan - A portrait of Lost Gardens Tim Smit
Heligan Vegetable Bible Tim Smit
400 years of Tremaynes at Heligan Ivor Herring
Heligan Wild Howlett
A taste of Heligan, the best from the bakery
A taste of Heligan, vegetable and fruit recipes
Heligan Harvest: A Year's Journal
The Mud Maid: A Story of Heligan
The Kitchen Gardens at Heligan
Unsung Heroes: The Lost Gardeners of Heligan
Visitors
Since it opened, visitors have flocked to Heligan, and by 1995 it became the most visited private garden in Britain with over 200,000 visitors. It also won the   "Country Life" Garden of the Year award 1995 .

Lost Gardens of Heligan

Cornwall Gardens Map

 

The hotel to stay at when visiting Cornwall is Corisande Manor Hotel, Cornwall find out more about it

Corisande Manor Hotel, Cornwall