Gazing out of the window as I start to write this latest blog entry on Cornish gardens (they just must have a special mention in spring), the neighbour’s palm trees gently dancing in the wind remind me how mild the climate is in this part of Cornwall, namely the section of the south coast commonly dubbed ‘The Cornish Riviera’. The combination of this mild climate and the effect of the Gulf Stream means that us Cornish folk often witness spring arriving slightly earlier than the rest of the UK, and we are treated to a truly fantastic display of colour. For instance, this year my evening lockdown walking route meant I passed by the most spectacular magnolia tree daily and witnessed the process of it forming beautiful pink buds – which I photographed nearing into full bloom on the 28th of February!
As we emerge out of the pandemic, and before the warmth of summer arrives, what better way to spend a day in Cornwall than out in the fresh spring air, wandering through a horticultural paradise?! Below you can find Cornwall Discovered’s Top 5 Cornish Gardens to visit in springtime:
Situated above the Helford River in the small parish of Mawnan near Falmouth, this Cornish valley garden boasts 26 acres of subtropical beauty and is one of our absolute favourites. Walking through this garden in springtime you are treated to a fabulous array of colour from the many rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias dotted throughout the valley, and the microclimate within this valley has allowed the various generations of gardeners to grow such a range of exotic Mediterranean and subtropical flora. The wonderful thing about this garden is that you can follow the winding, sloping paths all the way down to the private beach at the bottom where you can enjoy a tea, coffee or even ice-cream from the café overlooking the water, before the slightly more difficult walk back up! History buffs (like me!) can also seek out the plaque commemorating the 7500 men of the 29th US Infantry Division who embarked from this very beach to take part in the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach, Normandy.
Second on our list are the gardens of Caerhays which can be found tucked away on the Roseland peninsula, one of Cornwall’s ‘off the beaten track’ areas due to the nature of the winding roads that take you away from the main, more civilized A-roads! At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking the castle of Caerhays dates from the Norman period of the 11th-century, but in fact this elaborate manor house is only just over 200 years old, making it something of an historical oddity. Only open to the public for a limited period each year, spring is the best time to appreciate the castle’s wide variety of flora, as Caerhays has one of the largest collections of magnolias in the country, including one 100-year-old tree. Aside from this impressive collection, the garden is also home to several Chinese plants with a long history dating back to plant hunters Ernest Wilson (1876 -1930) and George Forrest (1873-1932).
Perhaps one of Cornwall’s most famous gardens due to its unique story - having been discovered, restored, and made well-known again by Tim Smit (Co-Founder of the Eden Project) and John Nelson in the 1990s, Heligan is now one of the UK’s most loved and visited gardens. Located near the fishing village of Mevagissey, the garden has various sections to explore including a wild area known as ‘The Jungle’, vegetable and flower gardens and an Italian garden. Early spring is a great time to visit as not only is the jungle area bursting with brightness from the rhododendrons, but you may also get the chance to see some new-born lambs in the paddocks! Later in spring it is worth a visit to see the wildflower meadow – we at Cornwall Discovered love the environmental initiatives taking place and one of our favourite signs can be found below.
Located near Penzance, Trengwaiton Garden is the ultimate spring garden as in Cornish it is called Tredhigwenton, quite literally meaning ‘farm of eternal springtime’. Managed by the National Trust, this garden is not only famous for its exotic trees and shrubs but also the views over Mounts Bay (and is a convenient garden to combine with a visit to the impressive St Michael’s Mount which is not far away). The garden is home to several walled gardens which you can explore but one of the highlights of springtime has to be the Camellia Walk. The camellias on display come in a range of colours and Trengwaiton even has some bi-coloured varieties so make sure you have your camera handy!
Cornwall’s Secret Garden We just couldn’t keep it a secret! Last but certainly not least comes our local garden and one that we frequent regularly (in fact it even features in my signature tour). It never ceases to amaze me that this botanical paradise is found just off one of the busiest roads into St Austell. A real pocket of tranquillity, this garden hosts a number of smaller defined areas including an arboretum, pinetum, a Japanese garden, a winter garden, cottage garden and water garden to name a few. Two of my favourite areas are the Japanese garden where most plants have been chosen from the Kyoto Botanical Garden, in Japan, and the lakes at the bottom of the parkland – which are home to Canadian geese amongst other wildlife. A beautiful garden all year round, a springtime visit showcases a range of blossom and in particular some spectacular magnolias near the tea rooms - a cream tea doesn’t have a much better backdrop than this!