Hello everyone. We are having flashback week here because there are a couple of places we visited way, way back in May here in England that I haven’t gotten around to sharing with you yet. And that is sad because the place that I am going to share with you today is one of my favorite places we have visited so far during our time here in the UK. It’s a real live genuine secret garden located down on the southwestern coast of England in Cornwall. Today I am going to show you pictures and share with you the story of the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
When I first heard there was a place called ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ I immediately knew, absolutely, without a doubt that I needed to see it. The Lost Gardens of Heligan – is that a romantic and intriguing name or what? It sounds like something that should be gracing the cover of a good novel or maybe it’s the title of the next Disney movie. The name simply piqued my curiosity so back in May over a long weekend when Eric and the girls had Monday off from work and school, we piled into the car and set off for the long drive down to Cornwall to find out exactly what The Lost Gardens of Heligan really are.
Well, the name does not lie my friends. It truly is a lost garden, or at least it once was. You see, the Heligan Estate was the home of the Tremayne family for over 400 years. From the years 1766 through 1914, there were four successive squires of Heligan that were the architects of these amazing gardens. Over the course of those years, with the help of a lot of other people, these four men designed and created the gardens, collecting botanical specimens from around the world. What they created was a collection of different gardens covering nearly 200 acres, including extensive flower and vegetable gardens, greenhouses, an Italian garden, a wild subtropical area known as ‘The Jungle’, and 350 ancient rhododendrons, the oldest of which were planted around 1850.
So, what happened? Why is this place called The ‘Lost’ Gardens of Heligan? Well, as I stated above, these gardens were created between the years 1766 and 1914 and the clue as to what happened to this great estate lies in the year 1914. Can you guess? I bet some of you can. World War I – that is what happened. Up until 1914, this great garden took 22 gardeners to maintain. But then, war broke out, the gardeners were called to duty for their country, and tragically, in the end, only six of the gardeners survived the war. Isn't that sad? And that was the beginning of the demise of this great work of botanical art. While the estate remained under the ownership of the Tremayne family, it was no longer their main residence and the estate ended up being used for various activities for most of the rest of the 20th century. And the garden – well, Mother Nature took over and the nearly 150 years of hard work by the family and those they employed to help them was covered up like a scene out of Sleeping Beauty.
But, all was not really lost. Unlike many estate homes in England during the war period, Heligan was never sold or developed but stayed in the family. And since the land was never disturbed, the original gardens lay hidden for many years deep under a cover of brambles and ivy, just waiting to be rediscovered.
And that is exactly what happened when in 1990, a descendant of the Tremayne family, John Willis, got together with a Dutch-born British businessman named Sir Timothy Bartel Smit and began peeling back 75 years worth of overgrowth layer by layer and rediscovered the treasure that was hidden beneath – The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
So I think you can see the fascination with this place, its history, the reality of the horrors of war, the story of its perseverance, and imagining what it was like that first spring after the layers had been peeled away when the over 100 year old rhododendrons started blooming in all their bright pink glory.
Well, I can tell you from first hand experience after seeing those very same rhododendrons blooming that first weekend back in May that it must have been an awesome and amazing moment for those who rediscovered these gardens. Walking under the dense canopy created by these century old plants with their gnarled trunks and a carpet of bright pink covering the ground beneath our feet from the fallen blooms was like a scene out of a fairytale.
Not everything in the gardens is from the original designers though. In more recent years pieces of art have been commissioned for the garden.
As you walk through the woodland area on paths that were originally cut for the Tremayne family, you pass by this beautiful and peaceful Mudmaid, a sculpture made out of mud, plants and rocks by a couple of local artists, Pete and Sue Hill. She is simply exquisite, looking as if she lay down in the forest and went to sleep just as this entire garden did for 75 years.
Further along the path you'll find The Giant's Head rising from the forest floor, his eyes a mixture of curiosity and mischief.
And this place was more than just a garden - it was a playground too, full of Jurassic Park like plants that looked as if they could swallow the girls...
There was a rope bridge swinging high above the jungle.
And a tree swing...
Who doesn't love a tree swing.
There is also a working farm where they raise traditional and rare breeds of pigs, sheep, cows and poultry.
We were lucky enough to be there when they had a litter of piglets running around the pasture, playing and squeeling as they fought their way into the feeding bins.
And that is the beautiful, intriguing and mysterious Lost Gardens of Heligan. If you ever find yourself in Cornwall, England, please go visit this amazing site. You will be glad you did.