Found! The 'Lost' Gardens Of Heligan
The most popular gardens in the UK?
The 'lost' Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall are the most visited private gardens in the United Kingdom attracting over 300,000 visitors a year.This former Victorian estate extends over 1,000 acres enclosing wooded valleys, meadows, pastures and lakes.
However, it is the magic of the lost, forgotten gardens that draws visitors and to evoke an era long since gone of the garden's heydays.
The 'gardens' covering 200 acres include walled gardens, flower borders, vegetable gardens, poultry orchards, wild flower meadows, a jungle garden and a lost valley.
Add to this the glasshouses and potting sheds, tools sheds and summerhouses, a bee bole and crystal grotto and you have the ingredients for a most magical day out and an unforgettable experience.
NOW CELEBRATING 21 YEARS
since the 'lost' Gardens were discovered and re-awakened!
A family home for over 400 years
The Heligan estate dates back to the 16th century and has been in the ownership of the same family, the Tremayne family, for over 400 years.
From the 18th century through to the 1920s the Heligan estate was developed and landscaped, the gardens carefully and lovingly tended and nurtured. In 1735 John Tremayne laid out elaborate formal gardens and in the 1800s his successors acquired and planted rare species of trees and plants from Nepal and the Himalayas, creating a jungle garden filled with bananas and giant gunneras; a spectacular ravine, lakes and streams; installed and built state-of-the-art glasshouses and even a heated pit to produce the latest and most sought-after fruits - pineapples.
Before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 the estate employed 22 full time gardeners dedicated to maintaining the gardens, growing and planting flowers, fruits and vegetables. Then the gardeners took the King's shilling, enlisted and joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry to go to war. Sadly only a handful returned.
After 1918 and the years that followed the end of the war the Tremayne family witnessed a dramatic change to their fortunes and that of the house, the estate and gardens. Without the large team of gardeners and estate workers nature took its inevitable course and control, and the gardens slowly went to sleep and were lost. Jack Tremayne, who had earlier built an Italian garden, moved permanently to Italy and the house itself was given up to tenants. Briefly during the Second World War it became a headquarters for the US Army and afterwards was converted into flats and sold.
All this time the extensive gardens beyond the house remained neglected and forgotten, becoming more and more overgrown.
Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Fast forward to 1990.
One day John Willis, a descendant of the Tremayne family, invited Tim Smit, the creator and driving force behind the nearby £80m Eden Project, to visit the estate. Together they entered the gardens, machetes in hand, and began hacking through the brambles and undergrowth, overgrown trees and shrubs. Slowly the two men began to realise that there was a form and an order to the wilderness and what lay buried beneath was a lost garden and a secret world hidden from view for over half a century.
Painstakingly the years of neglect have been turned back and the 'lost' Gardens of Heligan well and truly found. Once more the lost walkways along steep ravines planted with towering azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias are accessible; the ponds, streams and lakes running through valleys of ferns, bamboos and avenues of exotic trees unblocked and refilled; and the jungle garden paths and carriage ways cleared.
The glasshouses are once more productive planted and filled with fruits and vegetables and the gardens blooming with seasonal colour.
And in the ‘Thunderbox' room scrawled on the walls are the names of the gardeners who went to war and did not return. A poignant reminder indeed to the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are near Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall and open to the public 363 days of the year. See below for further information.
Allow a good 4 hours for your visit!
Opening times and admission prices
How to get to Heligan
From St Austell take the B3273 to Mevagissey, and the Gardens are well signposted.
About the author
Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.
Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.
His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.
© 2011 Antony J Waller