JARS v54n4 - Further Explorations in Cornish Gardens

Further Explorations in Cornish Gardens
Peter Kendall
Portland, Oregon

Recently, I conveyed something of my experience in the gardens of Cornwall by touching briefly upon three premier woodland gardens - those of Trebah, Glendurgan and Penjerrick (see the Spring 2000 issue of the Journal). As noted, each was brought to fruition by a member of the talented Fox family which long held sway in the area.

My peregrinations through the Cornish countryside led me to the grounds of yet four other notable woodland gardens. Three of the gardens were proximate to the delightful fishing village of Mevagissey where I found accommodation in a charming bed-and-breakfast for the better part of a week. Each of the gardens bore its own special attractions.

Manor house and lawn with a large R. arboreum 
at Trewithen.
Manor house and lawn with a
large R. arboreum at Trewithen.
Photo by Peter Kendall

Of the three, Trewithen with its distinguished manor house dating to 1723 is the most structured. It consists of a total of 30 acres. A 200-yard stretch of lawn extends rectilinearly from the rear of the house. It is surrounded by a wide assortment of rare trees and shrubs among which are outstanding collections of rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias. Paths off the main axis delve into other intriguing areas. This garden was established in 1903 by George Johnstone who cleared the land and introduced many of the Asiatic plants that came on the scene in the 1920s. Most of us are familiar with Rhododendron 'Alison Johnstone' ( R. yunnanense x R. cinnabarinum ssp. xanthocodon Concatenans Group [formerly R. concatenans ]) and R. 'Trewithen Orange', another Concatenans Group hybrid, which originated here.

A second garden in this area is the world renowned Caerhays Castle Garden. Another repository for the three greatest groups of ornamental Asiatic shrubs - camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias - the 60 acres that constitute the garden also hold a multitude of other interesting plant specimens. The Williams family, who owns it, subscribed to some of the great plant hunting expeditions of the early 20th century such as those led by George Forrest and E. H. Wilson. The setting is marvelously wild with the pounding surf of Veryan Bay on the south side giving way to a woodland sweeping north above the early 19th century castle designed by John Nash. Paths negotiate the steep terrain from top to bottom. The magnolias I saw here were some of the largest I have ever laid eyes on.

R. 'Michael's Pride'
R. 'Michael's Pride' (Caerhays hybrid) at Caerhays Castle.
Photo by Peter Kendall

A third garden in this locale is the recently rediscovered lost garden of the Tremaynes - 57-acre Heligan Gardens. Tim Smit, who uncovered it along with his partner John Nelson, formed a trust to restore it. Work began in the spring of 1991 and after less than a decade of prodigious effort an enchanting garden has begun to take shape. It is filled with rhododendrons among which are several Hooker introductions of the 1840s.

Heligan Gardens
Tree ferns ( Dicksonia antarctica ) and skunk cabbage
( Lysichiton americanum ) at the bottom of the
jungle area of Heligan Gardens.
Photo by Peter Kendall

Not far from Penzance in the southwestern corner of Cornwall lies another memorable garden created in the 1920s by Sir Edward Bolitho. The garden is Trengwainton. He filled it with some of the spectacular new finds of the plant hunters, particularly Frank Kingdon Ward. From the entrance lodge, the central axis of the garden resides in a long drive on one side of which is a range of walled gardens in which tender exotics thrive among rare magnolias and other trees and shrubs, i.e., eucryphias and stewartias. On the other side of the drive is a tranquil stream with candelabra primulas, meconopsis, ligularias and skunk cabbage The woodland backing this contains some flourishing large-leafed rhododendron species, such as Rhododendron sinogrande and R. falconeri . At the end of the drive, a monumental house takes in the view of Michael's Mount and the Lizard Peninsula across a broad sward of lawn. Located where the influence of the Gulf Stream is among the most pronounced in all of Britain, where many small springs feed the garden's streams, and where 48 inches (120 cm) of rain a year keep an acid, medium loam always moist, this 25-acre garden is indeed fortunate.

The walled garden at Trengwainton.
The walled garden at Trengwainton.
Photo by Peter Kendall

Peter Kendall, a member of the Portland Chapter, is a frequent contributor to the Journal. His first article on the gardens of Cornwall appeared in the Spring 2000 issue.