PUBLISHED: 15:01 09 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:02 30 August 2017



When the owners of Bonython House and Estate took over the running they had a blank canvas and have created a garden masterpiece

When the owners of Bonython House and Estate took over the running they had a blank canvas and have created a garden masterpiece, writes LOUISE DANKS

One of the first images of Bonython House and Estate Gardens is a striking one. A large elliptical pool placed with precision in order to provide a perfect mirror-image of the symmetrical Georgian property gives a powerful indication of what is to come. Sue Nathan has worked tirelessly in the Bonython Estate Gardens to create a space that is modern and forward looking while merging seamlessly with the inescapable history of this well-known Cornish estate found just outside Helston on the way to the Lizard. The effect is intoxicating.

We had a completely blank canvas when we arrived 15 years ago, it was a beautiful site, it just hadn’t been developed as a garden,’ remembers Sue.We inherited a 17th century walled garden with the original walls and three lakes in the valley, there was no planting. It was so exciting for me to come in and design. I love planting and colour. I’ve collected inspiration from visiting gardens all over the country and by reading as much as I can. I work in the garden and have planted it all, no one else does the planting.’

Sue’s personality, her vision and energy shine out of this garden. To have created the obvious fascinating new parts of this garden while continuing to develop and maintain the garden as a whole takes dedication and hard work.

Nearest to the house is a beautiful silver, purple and blue themed terrace that changes throughout the year. The colour scheme evolves through the colour palette, sometimes being predominantly silver, and at other times the purple, mauve and lilac hues are stronger. Sue is a fan of bulbs in the garden and tulips are used to great effect here as part of the planting in the mixed borders here, Sue admits that this area takes a lot of maintenance but the results are worth it.

The topiary spirals add height and evergreen interest and the white gravel paths work in harmony with the silver highlights in the planting. This walled terrace is impeccably designed and provides continuously changing interest throughout the year. The windows cut into the walls present glimpses out into the wider garden, further integrating this room’ as part of the house and garden.

The Thyme and Alpine Walk is a feature also found close to the house. It looks as impressive as it. Sue has even begun to establish a sempervivum carpet that she protects from the worst of the winter rain so that it will provide a stunning succulent display come spring. Thyme in flower, on this scale is wonderful.

Inheriting a walled garden is a dream for any gardener to work with Sue has transformed it. Now home to herbaceous planting on a grand scale complete with touches of formality you might expect in a large garden, of box balls and yew hedging. Stepping down into the potager shows an interesting and modern twist, harking back to the traditional use of spaces like these, here mixed vegetables, salad, herbs, a cutting garden all the elements you’d expect to see but in more relaxed format.

I love the English Country Garden look I love herbaceous planting and I have to have colour. We’re blessed with the wildflowers living in Cornwall which complement the colour in the garden

Beyond the walls and out into the garden an orchard stocked with Cornish varieties under planted with clumps of agapanthus in the lawn is maturing nicely. The thatched summer house is the perfect spot to pause and have a cup of tea and a piece of cake with views of the orchard and First Lake.

A birch wood surrounding a circular mounded lawn where the stark simplicity of the silver-white trunks against the lawn which is cut at different lengths to give subtle and effective interest is impactful in its own right but in contrast to the walled garden and potager is a refreshing contrast.

Down to the network of lakes walking further from the house and everything changes, the geography, atmosphere and of course the planting. Lake Sue is the middle of the three lakes and the surrounding borders take their inspiration from Sue’s South African heritage this explains its breath taking authenticity. Hot colours in the form of cannas, dahlias and kniphofias glow against grasses and restios not only a striking sight but this combination also serves to extend the season through the summer and beyond showcasing perfectly just what can be achieved in the second half of the year in the garden in Cornwall. Extending the horticultural season of interest is something that Sue feels passionately about and has worked hard to achieve here.

The path winds alongside the three large lakes past the romantic stream and under the canopy of a tree fern grove down into the wooded valley. Rhododendrons are under planted with wild garlic, bluebells, naturalised camassias and ferns, a hellebore bed where immaculate specimens of all colours take advantage of the dappled shade along the edge of the path leading to the drama of the final lake. Known as Quarry Lake for its steep rock faces which are unveiled gradually on turning a corner rather than displayed all in one go is pure natural theatre.

Looping back up to the house along the woodland walk and through the sheltered valley and it feels still here after the movement of the water, the borrowed landscape is at its most impressive, mature trees tower above the new planting. Sinuous paths have been cut through the valley floor, the gentle climb is flanked by rhododendrons, azaleas and acers merging into one bright tapestry.

Not necessarily known as for its magnolias and perhaps it should be, Sue’s garden has wonderful specimen magnolias which have established well and put on tremendous growth in the 15 years since planting, are definitely worth looking out for.

Returning to the house and an interesting feature that Sue describes as a folly in the garden’ a Living Chapel is in progress; the yew walls have windows cut in, the pews are wire frames planted with ivy and Sue is currently working on making the cushions. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase a garden room’.

It is one thing creating planting schemes that work in isolation but where the surrounding landscape is so dominant it can be daunting to know how to make the new and old work together. Not so where Sue is concerned, her artistic flair and impressive design credentials along with her horticultural experience have meant that large areas of the garden have been transformed. Stunning natural elements including generous swathes of naturalised wild flowers, dramatic lakes and surrounding shelter belt trees and older woodland have been put to work in Sue’s overall vision of the Bonython Estate Garden.

Sue’s planting style is sublime, not only in the schemes she creates which would stand alone but her knack of using the impressive existing landscape whether it be the generous swathes of wild garlic and bluebells or the dramatic quarry lake or even the surrounding shelter belt trees and older woodland, she turns her hand to sympathetically making the garden come alive.


Bonython Estate Gardens

Bonython Manor, Cury Cross Lanes

Helston TR12 7BA

01326 240 550

Open from April to October,

Monday to Friday 10.30am to 4pm

This article first appeared in Cornwall Life May 2015

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