The Lost Gardens of HELIGAN
OPEN DAILY ALL YEAR ROUND
The award winning Lost Gardens of Heligan, asleep for more than seventy years, are the scene of the largest garden restoration project in Europe. In the spring of 1991, the Gardens of Heligan lay under a blanket of bramble, ivy, rampant laurel and fallen timber. A year later, the restoration team opened the gardens to enable the public to share in the excitement of their discovery. In the northern gardens are two and a half miles of footpaths, an Elizabethan mount, rockeries, summer houses, a crystal grotto, an Italian garden, a fine set of bee-boles, a wishing well and a superb collection of walled gardens. Remarkably much of the original plant collection has survived, sometimes to record sizes.
To the south lies 'Lost Valley' and 'The Jungle', a sub-tropical valley overlooking the picturesque fishing harbour of Mevagissey, and overflowing with palms, tree ferns, bamboos, gunnera and numerous exotic trees and shrubs. If The Secret Garden and Peter Rabbit captured your childhood imagination, then Heligan will not disappoint you. The story boards make the visit interesting even to the non-gardener!
Guided tours may be booked in advance for groups of twenty or more.
'The garden restoration of the century' The Times
Shop at Heligan
THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN
Heligan ("The Willows" in Cornish) is first mentioned in the twelfth century. At that time it appears to have been part of an estate owned by the Arundell family. At some point later it transferred to the Hill family who sold the entire estate to Sampson Tremayne who, like his brother John, had moved from Devon in the mid C l6th. From this point there were two main branches of the family, the Devonian branch and the Cornish. The Devon branch were based at the magnificent Sydenham house near Lewdown and at Collacombe near Lamerton.
There had been an old manor house on the site but it is not certain whether it was still standing at this time because Sampson Tremayne continued to live at Trelissick at St. Ewe. The current house was built by Sampson's son William in 1603 although of that house only the basement remains. The front of the house is predominantly William and Mary built in 1692 with the two large wings enclosing a courtyard to the rear developed variously in 1810 and 1830. Most unusually for Cornwall the house is built of brick.
Heligan is beautifully situated at the head of the valley overlooking the lovely and historic fishing harbour of Mevagissey. It was at the heart of an estate comprising roughly 1000 acres stretching from Gorran to Mevagissey. This estate in its heyday was completely self-contained having a number of farms, quarries, woods, a brickworks (the earliest in Cornwall, 1680), a flour mill, a sawmill, a brewery, and productive orchards and kitchen gardens. It was the centre of the community with 20 "inside" staff and up to 22 "outside" staff. The Tremayne family sponsored the rebuilding of St. Ewe Church and its stained glass windows commemorate family members. Indeed the family vault is there.
If one reads the diaries of Grace Tremayne (1790-1810; The Latham Collection), who married Charles Rashleigh of Menabilly, one is struck by their familiarity. It all could have come straight out of the pages of "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen; for the ladies a round of social engagements both at home and at neighbouring houses, and for the men the concerns of local politics and mining interests.
It was Henry Hawkins Tremayne (squire 1766-1829), father of Grace, who created the shape of the gardens as we see them today. This happy man was a curate in Lostwithiel and unexpectedly inherited the estate. Within a fairly short time a cousin died leaving him the Croan estate near Wadebridge and in 1809 the Devon branch died out leaving him the Sydenham estates. He hired Thos. Gray to draw up a plan of the garden c1780-90 which shows it almost exactly as it is now. Henry Hawkins was responsible for planting the major shelter belts. Having established the shape of the garden it was left to the three succeeding generations who, according to F. Hamilton Davey were "noted horticulturalists", to build the plant collections.
John Hearle Tremayne (squire 1829-1851) was responsible for the creation of the long drive which comes up from Pentewan. This was supposedly built to enable horses to bring in coal from St. Austell as the incline on Pentewan Hill was far too steep. The drive was lined with ornamental trees and a magnificent avenue of Cornus capitata planted from seedlings in 1832. Little remains of this once famous avenue but the project has propagated large numbers of Cornus capitata with a view to its replanting, already commenced. John Tremayne (squire 1851-1901) was responsible for the exotic plantings in "The Jungle" and possibly the creation of the lower three pools there. It was John who, with his son John Claude, brought in the palms, tree ferns and bamboos which are so much the hallmark of this area. Both John Hearle and John were M.Ps as was his brother Lt. Col. Arthur Tremayne of Carclew.
The outbreak of war in 1914 ended this idyll. More than half the staff would perish in the mud of Flanders. In 1916 the house was formally taken over by the War Department. It should be said that it was a loan from the family to the nation for use as a convalescence home for officers. After the war the family returned for a few years, but didn't have the heart for it any more and tenanted the house out to family friends called Williamson who lived close to their Sydenham house. The Williamsons were able to do basic maintenance and look after the grounds around the house, but lost "The Jungle". Tab Anstice (nee Williamson) has been in touch from Spain where she now resides, and very generously donated her collection of old photographs to us. In 1943 the Americans came to rehearse the Normandy landings at Pentewan Beach and the ofticers were billeted here. The war years saw much decay. After the war Commander and Mrs Thomas and their family came to Heligan and breathed new life into it as a family home, but eventually the Tremayne family decided to sell the house as flats. This was done in 1970. As a result the house and service buildings are now privately and separately owned and are not open to the public. The amazing thing is that the gardens just gently went to sleep. No major alterations have been carried out this century and all the vernacular and garden buildings remained untouched. This is why Heligan is so valuable. There are very few examples of gardens which haven't been "modernised" and Heligan provides a unique time capsule.
That the project came about at all was pure chance. John Willis (Tremayne family) met Tim Smit, John Nelson and Robert Poole socially, just after he had inherited the gardens. He was distressed at the state of these once famous grounds and believed that nothing could be done. We went to see the gardens and chopped our way through with machetes. No paths were visible; only the tantalising tops of palm trees hinted at what lay underneath. It was on cutting our way into the big walled garden and seeing a giant vine weaving in and out of the broken panes of glass that we were touched by the romance of the place. Here was a "sleeping beauty" and we wanted to wake her gently from her slumbers. My first visit was on February 16th 1990. For all three of us it became a case of: "The rest of your life starts here". Madness? Folly even. Few people are privileged to have such adventures. None of us would have missed it for the world.
The award winning Lost Gardens of Heligan extend to some eighty acres of superb pleasure grounds together with a magnificent complex of walled gardens and a huge, productive vegetable garden, all fast returning to their former glory. Lying at the heart of one of the most mysterious estates in England, the former seat of the Tremayne family is now the site of the largest garden restoration in Europe.
This extraordinary plant collection together with a range of exotic glasshouses, working buildings, romantic structures and designed landscapes reflects the past passions and interests of the family. The combination of these and the mild Cornish climate has resulted in a garden (or in truth a series of gardens within a garden) which is unique.
Lost for many years under mountains of bramble, ivy, rampant laurel and fallen timber, this was truly a "Sleeping Beauty". Anyone who was moved by "The Secret Garden" will love Heligan, the most secret garden of them all.
THE PLEASURE GROUNDS
Visitors will have a preview of the exciting work going on around the Northern Summerhouse. An enclosed cool garden centred on a lily pond and complemented by the restoration of viewing windows into the boundary hedge will complete the composition.
Rare and beautiful shrubs (including the amazing "Hooker" collection of original Himalayan rhododendrons, and other exotics collected from around the world by the intrepid plant hunters of the last century,) provide the backcloth to numerous romantic structures around the Pleasure Grounds: the Fern Ravine, the Italian Garden, the Crystal Grotto (whose candlelit interior was used as a romantic backdrop on summer evenings), the Wishing Well... and through the mass of luxuriant vegetation in New Zealand can be glimpsed the mysterious arched recesses of one of the finest Beebole walls in the country. Described a century ago as "the finest herbaceous border in England," the neglected Sundial Garden has been replanted with early Victorian varieties to offer an unusual and colourful display from January to December.
THE PRODUCTIVE GARDENS
- the scene of an historic achievement in the autumn of 1997: the harvest of ripe pineapples, grown by traditional methods, one of which was delivered to Her Majesty the Queen in celebration of her Golden Wedding anniversary.
Heligan is now perhaps most famous for being a "Living Museum" of nineteenth century horticulture. The celebration of the skills of the ordinary men and women who made gardens such as these great, has been sadly neglected elsewhere. But here, where time has stood still for so long, the bones of a once famous productive garden lay buried under mountains of debris, waiting to tell their story. It is here that the Head Gardener reigned supreme, growing all the fruit, vegetables, herbs, ornamental flowers and exotics for the Big House. The heart of his kingdom comprised four walled gardens with associated pits, frames, glasshouses and working buildings, a vegetable garden and various orchards; the restoration of which is now nearly complete.
More than 300 varieties of fruit and vegetable are being grown again by traditional methods, and more are being brought into production each year. In the Melon Garden one can marvel at the ingenuity of the country's only remaining manure-heated pineapple pits where, thanks to months of back-breaking labour and devotion, traditional varieties have now fruited again; whilst in the great walled Flower Garden, alongside the glasshouses of citrus, vine and peach, one can see the most comprehensive collection of Victorian cut flowers. Aside from the more glamorous end of production there are the working buildings: the boiler houses, tool and potting sheds, equipment store, fruit store, dark house, and the bothies which give a snapshot of the daily lives of those who once worked here.
THE JUNGLE AND BEYOND
The Big House looks down the valley which eventually winds its way to the fishing village of Mevagissey. Here, the "Jungle" was created as an horticultural playground for experimenting with the new passion for sub-tropical plants that swept the country one hundred and fifty years ago. Only in the frost-free valleys of Cornwall could this passion fulfil its promise, and the "Jungle" is a breathtaking example of its kind. The steep-sided valley contains four ponds one above the other, nestling in some of the lushest vegetation in the country. It is home to the largest collection of tree ferns in Europe and is a subtropical paradise for palms, bamboos and exotic specimen trees. The boardwalks through this magnificent valley will take you on a journey far from our temperate shores.
INTO THE LOST VALLEY
Visitors may further extend their exploration of 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.
Last year brought the first chance for the public to visit the crowning achievement of the project so far - the Lost Valley. With its history of charcoal burning and Georgian rides, its water meadow and restored lakes, this rural landscape has all the potential for recolonization by native species of plants and animals. For all those with a spirit of adventure this is an unique opportunity to see work in progress and history in the making.