So, we arrived in Cornwall (after a brief stop in Devon, but that’s a story for another day) at the fishing village of Mevagissey. The place is not for those with mobility issues, being built on the steep valley sides around the harbour, but for us it was perfect.
Our first excursion was to walk the mile and a quarter to the Lost Gardens of Heligan – a delightful (although occasionally steep) stroll through woodland carpeted in bluebells and wild garlic and beside banks of primroses. Once at the entrance we decided not to venture in because we wanted to spend a whole day there and time was already getting on. Instead we visited the adjoining farm shop to buy a few supplies and then returned the way we came with plans to drive up the following day for a ‘proper’ visit. In the afternoon we explored some of Mevagissey (and gave our legs a thorough work-out).
It was bright and sunny when we arrived at Heligan – a perfect day for strolling around some of the most amazing gardens I have ever visited. In case you don’t know the story…
At the end of the nineteenth century Heligan’s thousand acres were at their zenith, but only a few years later bramble and ivy were already drawing a green veil over this “Sleeping Beauty”. The outbreak of WW1 was the start of the estate’s demise as its workforce went off to fight in the trenches; many sadly never to return.
… the gardens and land at Heligan were never sold or developed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Heligan House itself was eventually sold and split into private apartments.
After decades of neglect, the devastating hurricane of 1990 should have consigned the now lost gardens to a footnote in history…
In fact, the storm encouraged Tim Smit and John Willis (a descendant of the Tremayne family who created the gardens) to venture into the overgrown site. There they discovered the remnants of glasshouses, landscaping and planting that fired their imagination and sowed the seeds that led to the most spectacular restoration.
The native vegetation that colonised the garden when it was abandoned served to protect many of the trees, shrubs, bamboos and palms and so they are still present today. The structures, however, had been damaged by the rampant growth, but the debris was still in situ and, in some cases, salvageable. For the restoration, the focus was on obtaining salvaged material from elsewhere when the originals could not be used. And so, the recreated gardens represent the resurrection of many old and abandoned plants and structures.
Pictures cannot do the place justice, but I will try to give you a flavour of the gardens. There is ‘The Jungle’ – a sheltered valley containing exotic plants…
Many of these plants survived the neglect, so their size is quite astonishing. Below this area is The Lost Valley and adjacent are woodlands carpeted (when we were there) with spring flowers.
And then there are the more formal gardens and productive areas. In days gone-by, large estates like Heligan were self-sufficient, so the kitchen gardens are a sight to see. The work that went into reconstructing collapsed buildings, glasshouses, water supply and drainage systems, and (my especial favourite) manure-heated pineapple frames cannot be understated. What’s more, this is a working garden, supplying food to the cafe and demonstrating just what is possible with enough land and resources (it’s certainly not low-input in terms of working hours!).
We were delighted to discover that Heligan, like us, has a limery! They call it the Citrus House, but it’s really a limery. And like us, they put their citrus plants outside for the summer and grow other things in there.
That’s really only a tiny taste of Heligan, but I hope you enjoyed it. I highly recommend a visit – make a special trip, it’s worth it. We will certainly be going back.