With its mild coastal climate, Cornwall in the United Kingdom has the perfect environment for many exotic plants and an abundance of native species. It is why Cornwall is home to some of the country’s most spectacular gardens. I have compiled a list of seven gardens to include in your Cornwall travel itinerary. Two of them are located near Penzance, three close to Falmouth, and two on the outskirts of St Austell. I hope you will enjoy them and will be back for more. So here you go.
Penzance town, located in the very west of Cornwall, is an excellent base for visiting St. Michael’s mount and garden and Trengwainton Garden.
St. Michael’s Mount and Garden
This natural island has been steeped in history and legend since prehistoric times, with the Archangel Michael alleged to appear there to warn fishermen of danger. This caused it to become a place of religious respect and pilgrimage. In the 11th century, the island was owned by its sister Abbey, Mont St Michel, in Normandy. Still home to the St Aubyn family as well as a small community, this iconic rocky island is crowned by a medieval church and castle, with the oldest buildings dating from the 12th century. Nowadays, the Aubyn family and National Trust have joint ownership of the island.
Garden and castle highlights
The beautiful, fragile, terraced garden was designed on the island in the late 19th century. The garden clings to the almost vertical granite rock face above the sea. The warm Gulf Stream, along with the heat-retentive granite walls and bedrock, enable a wide variety of tender and exotic plants to be grown in the south-facing garden. Keep an eye out for exotic succulents nestled among the granite bedrock in the east and west terraces.
The castle is an essential part of your island visit. Some of the castle's interiors are open to the public, and it takes roughly an hour to explore them. There are many points of interest along the route. Probably the most notable is the Blue Drawing Room. Your tour also includes a visit to the castle’s church. This medieval church is dedicated to St Michael, of course! Sunday services are still conducted from May to September by the island's own chaplain.
St. Michael’s Mount is easily accessible by public bus from Penzance. To check tide times and to book tickets to the castle and/or garden, visit St Michael's Mount website. If you wish to see both the garden and castle, you have to buy two separate tickets. To get to and from the island at high tide, you also need to purchase boat tickets. On a low tide, you can walk to and from the island. Book your castle and/or garden ticket in advance to avoid disappointment.
Trengwainton Garden is located in Madron near Penzance. The Cornish word, Trengwainton, means the farm of the spring. A house certainly existed here in the 16th century, but the present building dates mainly from the early 19th century. This was when the estate was purchased by the Price family, and many of the trees were planted. At this time, there was also a vineyard and a series of experimental plant beds within a walled garden. The garden at Trengwainton was developed further during the middle of the 20th century, from the time when the estate passed to the Bolitho family.
Winding wooded paths follow the descent to the sea. They are bordered by a stream garden and open meadows with views over Mounts Bay. Exotic trees and shrubs, including tree ferns, create a prehistoric feel. The garden has good collections of magnolias, rhododendrons, and camellias. The bog garden, beside the stream, is planted with primulas and meconopsis. The former kitchen garden has been planted with tender plants. There are several walled gardens, some of which contain fascinating flowering trees and exotic climbing plants. There is also a Camellia Walk, where several species of this plant can be found.
The property is now owned by the National Trust, and the gardens are open from the middle of February until the end of October each year. House can only be viewed from the outside. There’s a café, gift shop, plant centre, and second-hand bookshop. Even though Trengwainton Garden is relatively close to Penzance, some visitors may find it too far to walk, so I recommend taking a taxi as public transport is not very convenient.
To visit the next three gardens, namely Trebah, Glendurgan, and Trellisick, you have to move your base to Falmouth, some 40 kilometres (24.8 miles) east of Penzance.
The oldest records show that for centuries Trebah was passed, by sale or marriage, through many old, noteworthy Cornish families. It is said that the garden was created by Charles Fox, part of the Fox family of Falmouth. Trebah’s beach was an embarkation point for the US Army forces during the Second World War. In 1981, Trebah was bought by Major Hibbert and his wife, Eira. In 1990, the Hibberts donated the house and garden to the Trebah Garden Trust, a registered charity.
Trebah is the wild and magical result of over 180 years of inspired and dedicated creation. The natural spring at the top of the garden drops about 3 metres (10 ft) into the Koi Pool and cascades through drifts of brightly coloured waterside plantings. Mediterranean and southern hemisphere plants intermingle with Trebah’s groves of huge Australian tree ferns and palms. A giant plantation of gunnera and clumps of huge bamboos give this garden a unique and exotic wildness matched by no other garden in the British Isles. Trebah has been rated as one of the best 80 gardens in the world. About 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) of footpaths wind through dazzling exotic planting passing a private beach.
Visitor Centre houses a restaurant with a Mediterranean-style terrace, plant and gift shops. With a unique outdoor theatre and plenty of space for children’s activities, Trebah is the perfect destination for both family and individual visitors to enjoy a stunning garden and extraordinary events all year round. You can reach Trebah Garden by public bus from Falmouth.
In 1820, the entire Glendurgan valley was purchased by Alfred Fox. Over the following two decades, Fox developed the valley site into a semi-tropical paradise where ferns and palms thrive in the mild micro-climate. The Foxes were Quakers, and Glendurgan was created to be 'heaven on earth', a reminder of their Quaker values. In 1962, Fox family members gave Glendurgan Garden to the National Trust.
Set in a 12-hectare (30 acres) woodland valley, the garden enjoys a very mild climate due to its nicely sheltered position and has fine views of the Helford Estuary. Exotic flowers, shrubs, and trees flourish in this unique location. The highlight of Glendurgan is the cherry laurel maze, designed by Fox in 1833. The maze is designed to resemble a coiled serpent curled on the lawn. There is a viewpoint on the hillside above the maze, and surrounding trees create a colourful 'window' to look down on the complicated serpentine shape. Camellias, azaleas, magnolias and wildflowers blossom in spring, followed by foxgloves in early summer. The summer also brings a stunning show of hydrangeas.
Glendurgan is a short walking distance from Trebah and is best visited together. After visiting both gardens, take a bus back to Falmouth.
There has been a house at Trelissick since the 13th century, but the property existing today was built in the middle of the 18th century. It was extended further in the early 19th century. For a large part of the 19th century, Trelissick was owned by the Gilbert family, who was responsible for much of the park planting. In 1937, ownership was passed to Ida and Ronald Copeland, who undertook the development of the garden. It was home to the Copeland family up until 2012 and is now open to the public.
Garden and house highlights
Trelissick is a park, woodland, and agricultural landscape of 92 hectares (228 acres) with some 10 hectares (25 acres) of gardens and pleasure grounds. Trelissick House and Garden are positioned in one of the most spectacular locations with stunning views looking over the Fal River and towards Falmouth. Travellers visiting the neoclassical house are welcome to enjoy the coastal views from the south-facing rooms, with refreshments available to buy from the Kitchen Café.
The walled kitchen garden is situated on a gentle east-facing slope north of the house, next to the former Home Farm and stables. Close to the kitchen garden is the Water Tower, a three-storey stone tower with a conical slate roof. A path to the north from the house leads to a rustic timber footbridge to the area of pleasure grounds. It comprises lawns divided by specimen trees and groups of ornamental shrubs, including rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, and hydrangeas underplanted with spring bulbs. To the south and west of the house, the park comprises pasture with scattered trees.
Owned by the National Trust, the property is open to the public from the middle of February to the end of October each year. Check out their website for garden, house, cafe, shop & second-hand bookshop & gallery opening times. Trelissick is situated about 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) south of Truro. I visited Trellisick Gardens by boat from Falmouth, and I highly recommend you to do the same. There’s also a small discount on the entrance fee if you show your boat ticket at the entrance.
To visit Lost Gardens and the Eden Project, move another 40 kilometres east to St Austell.
The Tremayne family purchased the Heligan estate in the 16th century and built a new manor house there in 1603. The garden plan was created at the end of the 18th century. The house was tenanted for most of the 20th century. During the Second World War, it was used by the US Army and then converted into flats and sold, without the gardens, in the 1970s. After the Second World War, the gardens of the 80 hectares (200 acres) estate were forgotten and overgrown. This Sleeping Beauty was re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project. The gardens were fully restored to their early 20th-century glory and opened as a visitor attraction. Today, Heligan’s gardens are a paradise for explorers, wildlife and plant lovers, and garden romantics.
With 32 hectares (80 acres), the garden has rare shrubs, a collection of Himalayan rhododendrons, exotic greenhouses, and romantic follies. The gardens are maintained as a living museum of Victorian gardening, with over 300 different varieties of fruits and vegetables grown using traditional techniques and tools. One of the unique features of Heligan is the only pineapple pit in Europe, which raises pineapple plants using manure for warmth.
The Pleasure Grounds includes Italian gardens, a New Zealand garden, a ravine garden, a greenhouse, a wishing well, and a crystal grotto. In the south of the gardens are the Jungle and the 'Lost Valley', bursting with gunnera, ferns, bamboo, palms, and other exotic trees and shrubs. There you will find the most extensive collection of tree ferns in Europe. A Burmese Rope Bridge crosses the Jungle; it's a popular attraction for children and adults.
A popular feature of the garden is modern sculptures, including the Mud Maid, created by Cornish artists Sue and Pete Hill in 1998. The Mud Maid was built by crafting a hollow framework constructed of timber and windbreak netting covered by sticky mud. The face of the sculpture is made from a mix of mud, cement, and sand. Another famous sculpture is the Giant's Head, near the garden entrance.
Privately owned Lost Gardens are open all year round.Luggage lockers are available but well hidden. Ask at the ticket office. The gardens are well signed from nearby roads and served by public bus from Austel.
In 1995, The Eden Project was just a vision in the mind of Tim Smit, a recreator of Lost Gardens of Heligan. The place of the garden was a former clay mine with no soil or plants. Funded by the Millennium Commission to re-energise the Southwest, the Eden Project by architect Nicholas Grimshaw was built between 1996 and 2000. With the idea set, work began, and over the years, thousands of seeds, bushes and trees were planted, creating the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ that we know today. The Eden Project is owned by the Eden Trust and operated by Eden Project Limited.
Before you reach the world-famous biomes, you have to take a walk through layers of plants and statues. A welcoming walkway to the Eden Project has over 3,000 varieties of plants. Soon you will reach a dramatic global garden housed in tropical biomes that nestle in a crater the size of 30 football fields.
At a staggering 55 metres (180 ft) tall and 100 metres (328 ft) wide, the rainforest biome is home to the world’s largest indoor rainforest, which is made up of over 1,000 varieties of plants and covers habitats from Southeast Asia, West Africa, and tropical South America. During your tour, you’ll discover an enormous indoor waterfall and a wobbly treetop bridge, and you can also climb to the very top of a 17-metre (55 ft) tall viewing platform! The temperature varies between 18–35°C, so dress accordingly.
The Mediterranean biome encompasses the Mediterranean, California, South Africa, and Western Australia. It includes the citrus grove, the perfume garden, the Western Australia garden and the golden path that leads you through the olive grove. From an imposing Greek god sculpture to a family of cork pigs, there are lots of things to discover in this fascinating giant bubble. The temperature is cooler than that of its tropical counterpart at 9–25°C, making it a welcome change from the humid environment of the neighbouring tropical jungle.
The postcode for the Eden Project is PL24 2SG. The Eden Project is just 6.4 kilometres (4 miles) from the town of St Austell and is easily accessible by car, train, or bus. The Eden Project is only a few kilometres from St Austell railway station. The station has a regular bus service to take visitors straight to Eden. Garden facilities include on-site restaurants and cafés, gift shops and well-equipped child- and baby-friendly toilet facilities. There are themed events according to the season, so check out Eden’s events calendar and food menus before a visit to make sure you don't miss out on anything. Luggage lockers are available at the bus stop.
General practical tips
Choosing the month of garden visit depends on which plants you want to see blooming. For camellias and magnolias, it is March; for rhododendrons, it is late March, April, and May; for hydrangeas, it is early July. You will need up to three hours to visit each site. I did this trip using public transport, so it's doable. I used taxis just in two cases to get from Penzance to Trengwainton Gardens and from Eden to St. Austell Station. When looking for accommodation, keep in mind that not all hotels in Cornwall are listed on the booking com website. I would advise you to try google maps and local resources; otherwise, you will get just a few expensive options. When travelling in Cornwall, you will often hear the word "Cornish", which is something related to Cornwall or its people or language. Yes, Cornish people got their own language too!
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Author: Anita Sane
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