Spring is finally here in Cornwall, and to celebrate the extra 2 minutes and 20 seconds of daylight each day, I made a pact with myself to get out and about visiting some of the attractions in this beautiful county.
One of my favourite outdoor day trips (apart from the Eden Project which I will cover in another post) is the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I had always wondered where these gardens were after hearing about them so many times, and apparently the perfect place to get some desperately needed inspiration for my garden makeover.
There is also a beer names ‘Heligan Honey’ which is brewed by the local Skinners brewery, the description on the back of the bottle describes how the ale is made using honey from the bees which are kept at the gardens. I have sampled ‘Heligan Honey’ a few times, but I never actually visited the gardens themselves. The entrance fee of £12 was OK considering that they have free parking, and I made a large packed lunch (cheese and Marmite sandwiches) to keep me going throughout the day. The address for visiting is The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall, PL26 6EN.
The lost gardens of Heligan
The gardens were absolutely stunning, and the whole estate is kept in pristine condition, even the productive gardens where they grow all manners of vegetables and fruit were neat and immaculately presented. The story of these mysterious gardens spans back 400 years, where at one point they seems to disappear into rack and ruin following the first world war. The Tremayne family set about restoring the gardens, the area was worked on by dozens of specialist gardeners and labourers in a huge effort to bring the gardens back to life.
The fruit and vegetable gardens were definitely one of favourite parts as I have a small vegetable plot at home and I specifically wanted to see how it was done properly. The gardens once met almost all the needs of the Tremayne family and their guests at the big House. Today over 200 varieties of mostly heritage fruit, vegetable, salad and herb are lovingly tended to supply the Heligan tearoom with fresh, seasonal produce throughout the year.
The vegetable gardens are an enticing stage for a glorious array of traditional crops and growing methods, I learned about putting seaweed on the vegetable beds as a brilliant soil fertilizer, and it also acts as a mulch to stop the soil drying out (something I will incorporate into my own vegetable plot). There were some enormous glasshouses growing fruits such as prize tomatoes of every variety and also wonderfully juicy peaches. I also learned about Victorian crop rotation methods, which were very similar to the methods I was using at home, but obviously on a much smaller scale.
In the Jungle
The jungle sits in a steep-sided valley, creating a micro climate at least five degrees warmer than the northern gardens. Here the exotic palette of plants brought back from across the world, both by the intrepid Victorian plant hunters and more recent collectors flourish before your eyes.
The Ancient Woodland
There are over 80 acres of ancient woodland at Heligan to get lost in with a carpet of Bluebells and other woodland plants like moss and ferns.
The sheltered pathway is brought to life with giant woodland sculptures that have become part of the flora and fauna; I actually did a comedy style double take as I noticed a giants head with plants for hair and bright blue eyes emerging silently from the beautiful natural landscape. Also the Mud Maid and Grey Lady (photos included below) wait to be discovered along the woodland walk.
The Lost Valley
The Lost Valley is home to some beautiful but slightly scary looking ancient trees, with giant knots and tangled branches, some of them reminded me of the Whomping Willow from Harry Potter. Two large and tranquil ponds in the lost valley, stocked with a healthy supply of fish like sticklebacks and Rudd, offer the perfect fishing spot for the otters and the kingfishers that live there year-long. I also saw many other small birds and squirrels dashing in and out of the foliage, probably gathering food and nest material.
The tour guide leaflet also explained about a healthy population of nocturnal wildlife in the woods including many species of owls and also bats. I love owls but I’m not a keen lover of bats; however I did appreciate the work that was being done to help conserve these sometimes misunderstood creatures. The wildlife experts at Heligan have installed over 60 bat boxes, which can seen can be throughout the woodland area. They provide shelter to many resident species such as brown long-eared bats, greater and lesser horseshoe bats, and if I had to have a favourite, based on the name, the Pipistrelle bats.