Located near the village of Mevagissey in Cornwall, England, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are one of Cornwall’s must-visit gardens.
Originally owned by the Tremayne family for over 400 years, the gardens fell into a state of neglect after the First World War when many of the gardeners sadly lost their lives. It wasn’t until 1990 that the derelict gardens were discovered by Tim Smit (who went on to create Cornwall’s Eden Project ) and John Willis, who was a descendant of the Tremayne family.
Under the fallen masonry in a corner of one of the walled gardens, they found a motto, dated August 1914, written on the walls – “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber”. Keen to find out more about the people who worked here before leaving to fight in the war, and to re-create the gardens to their former glory, they embarked on a project which would transform the overgrown gardens in amazing ways.
Only a visit to the gardens will properly highlight how much they achieved. Like many gardens of their era, The Lost Gardens of Heligan are split into several different themes. The Productive Gardens feature over 200 varieties of heritage vegetables and fruits which are grown in old fashioned greenhouses, using traditional methods. The Cornish climate allowed the original gardeners to create a pineapple pit to grow pineapples, and this has been cleverly recreated. In fact, it’s said to be the only place in Europe that has a fully functioning and successful pineapple pit.
The Pleasure Grounds were also laid out over 200 years ago and feature historic trees, Italian gardens, grottos and romantic structures. It is great fun to wander around and explore the different themes, but it’s perhaps the Jungle that is the most stunning element of Heligan.
Located in a steep valley, it was here that Victorian plant hunters brought back and cultivated an exotic range of plants from throughout the world. The valley setting helps create a micro-climate for the plants – they say it’s at least five degrees warmer than the northern gardens – and a series of well produced board walks take you through towering plants.
The atmosphere is tropical and exotic and provides an amazing contrast to the rest of the gardens. There are giant palm trees, tree ferns and bamboos, and the boardwalks twist and turn down steep paths and over four ponds. On our visit, the ponds were full of giant water lilies in full bloom amidst pond life galore.
Depending on the route you take through the Jungle, there are various points at which you can venture back out into non-jungle grounds. We weaved our way back up along tree-clad paths, past an area where they do charcoal burning, and across a meadow to rejoin the more formal gardens again.
En-route, we chanced upon Horsemoor Hide, where you can get a close up glimpse of the wildlife at Heligan. Plasma screens inside Horsemoor Hide beam live images of a variety of wildlife, such as bats, owls and other birds.
The timing of our visit to Heligan allowed us an afternoon to explore, but it’s well worth setting aside a day to get full benefit of these beautiful gardens. It’s amazing that these gardens lay in disrepair for so long, but wonderful that they’ve been rejuvenated in such a successful way and for so many people to share and enjoy.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan