Known as “The Lost Gardens of Heligan” as the garden was quite literally ‘lost’ for decades, Heligan is today most definitely found. The most visited garden in Britain (yes, even more than Sissinghurst!) Heligan is an exquisite example of a working Victorian estate and a very unusual story.
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
At the turn of the 20th century, Heligan was in its heyday – a fully sustainable estate with farms, quarries, sawmill, flourmill, brickyard, brewery and orchards. The Tremayne family had been on the property for over 400 years and the estate had flourished under their stewardship. They were closely involved through marriage with the Victorian plant collectors and had a long tradition of growing new and unusual plants. In the 1800’s, Heligan became a hothouse of experimental growing as many new plants on their arrival into the UK, were sent south to the temperate climes of Cornwall to be grown on under the watchful eye of the Tremaynes.
Espaliered Malus (Apples) in the Productive Garden
Even within this age of gardening excellence, Heligan was considered an estate of outstanding caliber. Their dedication to growing exotic species, their adoption of new agricultural inventions - Heligan had a fully functioning manure heated Pineapple Pit - their outstanding collections and commitment to fine gardening - Mrs. Tremayne’s perennial borders in the Sun Dial Garden were considered the finest in the country – all earned Heligan a formidable horticultural reputation.
Sadly, this all came to an end with WWI. Young men and farm laborers responded to the call for duty and left for the trenches of France. Few returned. With a skeleton work force, the Tremaynes could no longer afford to keep the Heligan running. By WWII, Americans were occupying the house readying for the Normandy evasion and by the 1970’s, the house was sold. Throughout this time, the gardens remained completely untouched – a Victorian time capsule smothered by briars, vines and weeds.
Ranunculus ready for picking in the Flower Garden
Visiting Heligan in the Cornish spring is a thrill. The Rhododendrons are dripping with blooms, if you’re lucky and it’s a good day – my visit wasn’t – you’ll get spectacular views from the Northern Summerhouse across to the coast of Devon. You see the fully working Victorian Kitchen garden and eat the produce at the restaurant. You’ll see the famous perennial borders once again in full bloom and if you venture down across the meadow and into the gully to The Jungle you’ll discover a tropical Eden where towering tree ferns and Chusan palms jostle for space amongst the rhododendrons, banana trees, canna lilies and gingers.
|Gardeners Notes for May|
Sickles on The Road is going to England in 2014 to visit some of the countries finest gardens. Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the latest tour updates!
~ Kirsty Dougherty