Wanderer at Large: Devon & Cornwall – Gardens of Cornwall

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area of England that includes the counties of Devon & Cornwall.

Eden Project Panorama by JUST NIC. CC license BY 2.0

Gardens of Cornwall

Eden Project (PL24 2SG)
The Eden Project is one of the great success stories in Cornwall’s recent history. Described as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, it opened in 2001, the brainchild of local music mogul Tim Smit.

The bubble-like ‘biomes’ designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw contain different eco-climates such as rainforest and Mediterranean, and the project aims to educate visitors on global environmental issues. The giant dome-shaped greenhouses at Eden Project were featured in the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day.

Note that the Eden Project can get very busy, and it attracts over one million visitors a year.

Lost Gardens of Heligan (PL26 6EN)
In 1990, a decade before his success with the Eden Project, Smit made a chance discovery a few miles away: The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Hidden under a couple of acres of overgrown bracken and bramble he found the remains of a 19th century garden. The discovery caused quite a stir because it was so well preserved.

The garden had originally belonged to the powerful Victorian Tremayne family. They employed William Lobb to explore the world for exotic plants to sell at home, especially the Monkey Puzzle tree. Pineapples were also grown here. They were seen as a status symbol: to grow one pineapple cost £5,000. They weren’t eaten – just displayed.

Trapped in time, Heligan offered a rare opportunity for gardening experts to study the principles of Victorian gardening. There is a poignant historical reason as to why the gardens became ‘lost’. In 1914, all 22 gardeners from here went off fight in WW1, and almost all were killed. Graffiti on site lists the names of the lost gardeners.

Today, it has now been restored to a working site and features an Italian hedged garden, a walled fruit and vegetable garden and a tropical garden bordered in rock. You can also stop for a truly organic lunch here: the food they serve in the restaurant is grown on site.  The Lost Gardens of Heligan also gets busy, attracting 250,000 visitors per year.

Trelissick Garden (TR3 6QL)
Near the small settlement of Feock, on the outskirts of the city of Truro, the administrative capital of Cornwall, sits the memorable Trelissick Garden. Located in a spectacular setting, it features glorious views over Fal River estuary and Carrick roads down to the town of Falmouth itself.

Extensive parkland, shrubland and woodland combine to make Trelissick Garden a perennial favourite with visitors who come to enjoy the year-round displays of colour. Tranquil, beautiful and with many rare and exotic plantings, there are few better ways of spending a morning or afternoon, than walking though and exploring this English garden.

The gardens are owned and maintained by the National Trust and the admissions area includes a shop, restaurant, art and craft gallery and plant sales.

For those with an interest in fine collectable pottery, the nearby Trelissick House is famous for its special exhibitions of Copeland Spode China, which take place once a week on Thursday.

To tune in with Mother Nature even further, why not make an environmentally-friendly journey to Trelissick? It is possible to travel here via the passenger-only foot ferry which operates during the summer months from Truro, Falmouth or St Mawes.

Trebah Gardens (TR11 5JZ)
Described as the ‘Garden of Dreams’, Trebah Gardens is a steeply wooded 25-acre ravine edging down a sheltered valley, full of tree ferns, waterfalls, and rhododendrons, as it leads down to the sandy Polgwidden Cove, a secluded beach on the Helford river. It’s wild, enchanted and full of beautiful surprises.

Trebah has a spectacular variety of vibrant styles and plantings that can often overawe the senses of the first-time visitor. The combination of colour and scent is made possible thanks to Cornwall’s generally warmer climate. Sometimes the influences are wildly tropical, sometimes delicately oriental, and sometimes formally English. Owned by the Trebah Garden Trust, the gardens include a visitor centre, shop and restaurant.

History buffs may be interested to know that the peaceful beach below Trebah has an interesting American military connection, incongruous as it may seem. On June 1, 1944, it was the embarkation point for some 7,500 men from the 175th Combat Team of the 29th US Infantry Division, bound for the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Most never returned because the first wave of the assault met heavy resistance and suffered terrible carnage. A memorial in the Gardens commemorates their sacrifice, and a Remembrance Day is held each year.

Find your own Eden in the gardens of Cornwall.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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