CORNWALL's FINEST GARDENS
PUBLISHED: 16:17 10 July 2015 | UPDATED: 13:04 30 August 2017
Cornwall's gardens are recognised as among the best in the world - we ask BBC garden writer and broadcaster Tony Russell names his favourites
Cornwall’s gardens are widely recognised as being among the best in the world - we ask BBC garden writer and broadcaster TONY RUSSELL to name a few of his favourites
A new book published this spring entitled The Finest Gardens of the South-west highlights some of the very best gardens to be found in Cornwall. Written by BBC garden writer and broadcaster Tony Russell, it is the third in a series of books which will eventually encompass the whole of the UK and includes more than 500 gardens (the first two books in the series were The Cotswolds’ Finest Gardens and The Finest Gardens in Wales).
Within this new book Russell, who for many years ran the National Arboretum at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire, uses knowledgeable but easily accessible text and stunning photography, to bring to life each of the fifty gardens featured and provides a wealth of information on their design, plants, history, architecture and personalities. All of the gardens included in the book are regularly open to the public.
Starting at the southern-most point of the British Isles with the exotic Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Isles of Scilly, Russell works his way eastwards picking up on world-famous garden restorations such as The Lost Gardens of Heligan, ground-breaking new creations including The Eden Project, influential historical masterpieces at Lanhydrock and great plant collections such as that found at Trewithen.
So what is it that makes Cornwall such an important place for gardens of the highest order? Cornwall Life caught up with Tony Russell recently to find out more about the Cornish gardens he chose to feature.
The West Country of England and in particular Cornwall is without doubt one of the best regions in the UK for growing plants that are native to other parts of the world, in particular tender and sub-tropical plants,’ he says. This is due, in the main to the effects of the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift, which regularly bathe the Cornish peninsula with relatively warm, moist air. This does not mean that summers are necessarily hotter here but rather that winters are milder. Consequently tender plants are able to survive more easily in Cornwall than in other regions of the British Isles. As a result, over the past two and a half centuries an astonishing collection of plants and indeed gardens has been established here.
Through my work, I have, over a period spanning more than 25 years, been fortunate enough to spend many happy hours exploring the gardens in this region and it never ceases to amaze me just how exciting and diverse the collection is. From the crazy mix of sub-tropical and southern hemisphere plants established in the Abbey Gardens on Tresco to the giant Asian magnolias to be found at Caerhays Castle these are gardens which constantly surprise and push the horticultural boundaries.
It is however not just about the diverse collection of plants that each garden contains that immediately makes them worthy of inclusion in my books. They also need to be well maintained and managed, have an interesting history and be accessible to the vast majority of garden visitors. Sadly, there are some gardens in Cornwall which were once considered great, but have declined over the years, perhaps through lack of funding, or knowledgeable direction and I feel it would be unfair of me to include these in a book which sets itself up as portraying the very finest that Cornwall has to offer. Thankfully these are the exception rather than the rule and there are so many good gardens in Cornwall and the south-west that my difficulty was not in finding enough to include in this book, but more deciding which ones to leave out – in truth I could have included at least another 50!
It is difficult to say which are my all time’ favourite Cornish gardens, because gardens are constantly evolving and changing, they can be influenced by a multitude of external factors; for example some Cornish gardens are at their best in spring, some in summer and some in autumn. Even certain weather conditions can make gardens more interesting or atmospheric. Take Lanhydrock as a case in point, for me it is at its very best when the mist rolls into the garden from nearby Bodmin Moor and its cocoon-like qualities intensifies both the sound of running water in Borlase’s Stream and the colours of the candelabra primulas growing alongside.
Over the years I have of course built up a wealth of memories relating to specific features within certain gardens. I can remember that first glimpse of the Helford River as I gazed across billowing clouds of flowering rhododendrons in the valley immediately below the house at Trebah; likewise the sublime vistas to St Anthony’s Headland from the Grecian Arcadian follies at Lamorran. To be lucky enough to visit Glendurgan when the magnificent Magnolia doltsopa located just above the cherry laurel maze was in full flower was a very special moment, as was the sight of lilac and white wisteria flowers dripping into the perfectly still water of the pool in the Japanese-style garden at Antony House.
I could go on, but the whole point of the book is to encourage people to visit these gardens and to make their own memories, just as I have been lucky enough to do over the years.’ n
The Finest Gardens of the South West £15.99 is published by Amberley Books.