Anyone seen my garden?

We were a bit undecided about what to do today so we left it in the lap of the gods. If we woke up early, we’d head off for the Eden Project, if we slept in, we’d go and find the Lost Gardens of Heligan. And so, at 9:30, we hit the road for Heligan.

We travelled through the mysteriously named London Apprentice, which seems to overflow with caravan parks and camping grounds. There is one, not very big, combined shop and about three houses. And lots of brown tourist signs with silhouetted images of tents and vans. Mirinda thought it was because London Apprentice is close by to a beach but a glance at my OS map indicates this is not the case. I thought fishing but there isn’t much of that in evidence either. Maybe it’s just a place for apprentices to escape the hustle and bustle of London and relax amongst the trees and grass and hills of southern Cornwall.

I have found a few possible explanations for the name. The most likely sounding one is that it is named after a pub which was so named because of a folk ballad. This ballad featured a sailor who landed in Cornwall but was unable to find work. He went off to London where he learnt a trade (possibly blacksmith) and then returned to set up a business near St Austell. Neither the pub nor the smithy are there any longer; just the mysterious name. I’m still not sure why people choose to go there for a holiday. Anyway, from London Apprentice, it is a mere hop, skip and jump to Heligan.

Entrance to Heligan gardens, looking out

The beginnings of Heligan start way back in 1603 when the building of the main house commenced. From then until 1970, the Tremayne family lived there continuously, creating the estate and gardens. It was at its grandest during the Victorian era as scientists and botany collectors went out into the wide world in search of new and rare species. Some of these found their way to Heligan and it continued to grow. And then the two world wars happened.

Because of the wars, men were in scarce supply and money was used for things other than gardening. Sadly for places like Heligan, the beautiful landscapes gradually became engulfed by nature. The gardens were lost. Presumably this wasn’t sad for nature.

That was until 1990 when Tim Smit (who now runs the Eden Project) and John Willis (a descendant of the Tremayne family) rediscovered them. Since then, there has been a lot of work to return the gardens to the height of their heyday. Work continues but there is a lot to see, as 250,000 visitors a year will testify.

We’ve seen a lot of grand scale gardens but this one is really fantastic. It perhaps doesn’t have the extraordinary skills of a Capability Brown vista or the neatness of a Victorian garden, but it sweeps over hill and dale, floats from pond to pond down a jungle vale and has an amazing array of plants from everywhere you could imagine. We loved it. We saw most of it! We exhausted ourselves.

South summer house garden and pond, Heligan, Cornwall

Highlights included

  1. the hide with the feeders, birds, pond and hungry squirrel, which Mirinda wants replicated in our own, small back garden
  2. the walled garden full of flowers, rosemary, lavender and a pensioner’s bus queue along the side of the tomato glass house
  3. the amazing mud sculptures in the woodland, created by Sue and Pete Hill and looking exactly like giant mystical beings, and
  4. the big open field where lazy Wiltshire horn sheep (which may or may not be goats) lie back waiting for table service while admiring the magnificent views over towards Mevagissey and city girls in inappropriate little dresses and ballet pumps, become increasingly dismayed by the amount of sheep droppings.

Of course, there were so many more things…I could write for hours. The guide book titled The Lost Gardens of Heligan Guide Book is well worth the £3.50 and has an excellent personal written journey around the gardens by the managing director, Peter Stafford. There are two other guides (one on the history and the other about the wildlife), which I assume are also very good. The guide book has a small section dedicated to the history but the bulk is about the experience of a journey through the garden and an excellent read.

On the way out we bought a load of groceries from the farm shop including some delicious local cheese (smelly, crumbly and smoked) and fresh local sausages (pork, tomato & basil and lamb & mint). This was our lunch and dinner. And very nice they were too!

After our exhaustive day wandering the 200 acres of Heligan, Mirinda decided it would be nice to go for an evening stroll down the very steep hill to the viaduct near our apartment. Although we are in a valley, it is quite high up compared with the real bottom of the valley, which we ended up walking to. Down there is a dribbly tributary of the River Fowey, flowing around a small house and under a massive viaduct where trains clatter overhead at regular intervals, disturbing the otherwise very tranquil setting. We wandered a little way into the Milltown Woods then started back in order not to miss Sarah Beeny and her Snakes & Ladders Property Game.

Ok, so we’re going to try for the Eden Project tomorrow…

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