THE SECRET GARDEN - HOW THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN WERE FOUND
PUBLISHED: 14:45 19 January 2015 | UPDATED: 13:13 30 August 2017
It is 25 years ago this month that Tim Smit first stood on the spot of what would
become one of the garden wonders of the world. Marketing Manager LORNA
TREMAYNE tells the story of how the Lost Gardens of Heligan were found
The rediscovery of the Lost Gardens of Heligan was completely by accident, The gardens were re-discovered by Tim Smit when a chance meeting with Tremayne descendant John Willis took him to Heligan where they discussed the possibilities of opening a rare breeds farm.
These plans never came to fruition and the early exploration of the bramble-filled gardens revealed not only a historic collection of plants from around the world but a wealth of derelict buildings, glasshouses and pathways.
'Heligan is a special place for so many people and yet there isn’t one place within it that holds the same connection for everyone. That’s the beauty of Heligan, it is so diverse that everyone is able to find their own little piece of heaven.'
However, it was the subsequent visits to the gardens with local restoration builder and Heligan cofounder John Nelson when the passion to restore the gardens to their former glory was really ignited. Within an old building they discovered the old gardener’s toilets also known as the Thunderbox Room where on the wall they read the following inscription Do not come her to sleep nor slumber’. Written underneath was a list of names and at the end the date August 1914.
John and I decided that day that preserving Heligan for posterity by putting it in aspic was not what we wanted,’ says Tim Smit. We had flesh and blood in mind. We wanted to hold a mirror up to the past and tell the story of these people, in a way we hoped that would have understood and approved of. Just as importantly, we wanted to celebrate the lives of all those ordinary men and women who had once worked in great gardens like these.’
Heligan is a special place for so many people and yet there isn’t one place within it that holds the same connection for everyone. That’s the beauty of Heligan, it is so diverse that everyone is able to find their own little piece of heaven.
The Jungle with its wealth of sub-tropical plantings and exotic atmosphere is popular with all ages as it takes you on a journey far from our temperate shores. The addition of the longest Burmese Rope Bridge in England in 2014 has made the Jungle even more appealing to our visitors with an adventurous spirit!
The historic Productive Gardens and working buildings hold their own nostalgia and magic for many too, providing year round interest and reason to return.
For many though, this year’s favourite place has possibly been wherever the piglets have been! It’s been incredible to witness 15 Tamworth piglets captivate hundreds of visitors daily!
We live and breathe the history of the gardens every day in everything we do, from the plantings, to the gardening techniques and working practices. As much as we are practically able, Heligan is a timeless example of Victorian horticulture.
Within the Northern Gardens we strive to be period correct with the planting, returning to a period around 1890, when Heligan would have been in its heyday.
The Jungle is the only area which isn’t bound by period correctness; here the team are able to develop the garden with the same spirit of the Victorian plant hunters, introducing the most exotic, jungle like plants that they can procure.
There have been so many big moments so it’s hard to pinpoint just one. Certainly the original CH4 series about the garden’s restoration was momentous in bringing Heligan to the public’s attention and captivating them in the journey of The Lost Gardens.
For the gardening team, we know that the growing of the first pineapple in Heligan’s historic Pineapple Pit was an incredible achievement as they grappled with historic technologies. Today, Heligan’s example remains the only working manure-heated pineapple pit in the UK.
August 3, 2014 was one of our biggest moments in recent years when we remembered Heligan’s lost gardeners. In commemoration of the outbreak of WW1 and in remembrance of those men who worked the Heligan estate we partnered with Wildworks Theatre to put on a dawn’ til dusk theatre performance involving our three local parishes and communities. The day was simply unforgettable, emotional and breathtakingly beautiful. Over 5000 people joined us in our commemoration and they are still talking about it now. We made history that day.
2014 itself has been an incredible year for Heligan in which we scooped six awards starting with Countryfile’s Heritage Site of the Year’. Heligan then went on to be recognised within Europe with an award from the European Heritage Garden Network for best restoration and enhancement of an historic park or garden’, before winning Gold and Silver at the Cornwall Tourism Awards and the icing on the cake of Winner of Winners’!
Welcoming our five-millionth visitor in such a fantastic year is a milestone that everyone at Heligan is proud to witness. This year, we will celebrate 25 years since Tim Smit and John Nelson first started uncovering the gardens. To be here a quarter of a century later knowing how much pleasure these unique gardens have given to so many is simply heartwarming; long may it continue.