The Lost Gardens of Heligan
...the largest garden restoration project in Europe
Cornwall is renowned for and indeed characterised by many things, most obviously its dazzling array of world class beaches, but also its gardens.
Aided by a near sub-tropical climate, Cornwall is often labelled ‘the garden capital of the world’, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan can certainly lay claim to be among the finest botanical gardens on the planet.
If you’re spending your holidays in Cornwall, the Lost Gardens of Heligan must feature high on your agenda.
Situated near the wonderfully-named fishing village of Mevagissey, the Lost Gardens of Heligan you see today are the result of what is considered to be the largest garden restoration project in Europe.
The gardens now comprise over 200 acres of stunning botanical beauty, which until 1991 were neglected, abandoned and buried under the best part of a century’s growth of ivy, bramble, laurel and fallen timber.
The mysterious Heligan estate is the former home of the Tremayne family, built in 1603. In its pomp the estate was completely self-contained and self-sufficient, comprising several farms, saw and flour mills, quarries, a brewery and, of course, gardens.
Around 40 staff members served the estate – half working indoors, and the other half maintaining the gardens – until the beginning of the First World War in 1914 when all of the male staff were signed up with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
In 1916, with the all bar 6 of the gardens staff having tragically perished in Flanders Fields, the house was loaned by the family to the War Department who used it as a home of convalescence for officers.
The house was eventually handed back to the Tremayne family in 1919, but due to the depression of the post-war climate and an ever-decreasing enthusiasm, they decided to rent the house out just a year later.
During the 2nd World War the house was used by the US Army, which saw further decline, and was later rented until 1970 when the Tremayne family sold the house as flats. The decline appeared terminal.
After a chance meeting in 1990, the inherited owner of the estate – upset and feeling helpless over the state of these once glorious grounds - leased the gardens to Tim Smit, who accepted the enormous challenge of restoring the historic gardens to their former majesty.
The work began in the spring of 1991 and just a year later the gardens were opened to the public.
Incredibly, no major alterations were carried out during the restoration, and the garden buildings remained untouched while much of the original plant collection remains. There are precious few examples of gardens
which haven't been overhauled and modernised, and as such Heligan serves as a unique time capsule.
The restoration, which received widespread publicity and was the subject of a Channel 4 series in 1996, has been a resounding success.
Today, the gardens are hugely popular, attracting visitors from around the world. It is a unique attraction – a continuous work in progress as well being a snapshot in time.
What's To See?
The northern gardens feature over two miles of footpaths, an Elizabethan mount, a multitude of rockeries, summer houses, a crystal grotto, an Italian garden, a wishing well, a fine collection of walled gardens and much more.
The 'Lost Valley' can be found in the southern gardens, as well as ‘The Jungle’ - a sub-tropical valley overlooking the quaint fishing harbour of Mevagissey, and bursting with palms, tree ferns, bamboos, gunnera and plentiful exotic trees and shrubs.
With picnic areas, tea room, restaurant, a farm shop plus a gift shop which sells many of the plants cultivated at Heligan, the Lost Gardens is a varied attraction where you can while away several hours - so allow for plenty of time.
And, moreover, you needn’t be a keen gardener to enjoy and appreciate this magical, blooming nirvana. You will seldom have seen a more beautiful place, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan come highly recommended to anyone spending their holidays in Cornwall.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015