An Historical Blockbuster

PUBLISHED: 14:53 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:53 10 January 2014


Godolphin is easy to miss but difficult to forget, discovers Louise Danks

Garden Questions

Natalie Brown, Truro

I have one of those plastic storage boxes, how can I hide it?

Disguising storage, oil tanks and bins, those items that have to live in the

garden but aren’t necessarily the most beautiful is a perennial problem.

With the help of trellis and well-behaved climbers, strategically placed containers or even brightly painted murals, they needn’t be the eyesore you expect.

Joanna Harris, Newquay

I would like to plant a hedge to divide a paddock. I’d like it to be in keeping with the surrounding area. When is the best time to plant and how do I protect it from rabbits?

Winter is a great time to plant hedging. Many species including British natives can be bought in bundles, bare-root each plant working out at around a pound each depending on what you chose and can be bought from most good garden centres or nurseries.

The plants will be small but will establish quickly and grow well, better than spending a fortune on large, mature plants that could fail.

I would go for a mixture of things like hawthorn, field maple, viburnum opulus, beech and holly will support a wider range of wildlife than a single species hedge and look interesting all year round. As for rabbit protection, you’ll need to buy plastic spiral rabbit guards that you put around the young plants after planting just be sure to check that they are not affecting the plants as they grow.

A National Trust property on the outskirts of the village of Godolphin Cross, not far from Helston, the eagle-eyed will spot the inconspicuous signs and should not be put off by the fact that the house can not be seen from the road or even for that matter from the car park.

The house was built in the late 15th century where Godolphin Castle had previously stood. The Godolphin family continued to amass wealth and headed to London. The estate passed to the Dukes of Leeds, which is where the village of Leedstown and the Duke of Leeds pub in Hayle take their name. A period of neglect through the 18th and 19th centuries lead to much of the house being demolished.

The estate was bought by the National Trust in 2007 from the Schofield family who had owned it since 1937. The house has since been though a period of renovation, painstakingly project managed by Malcolm Smitheram. Many of the buildings have undergone conservation and renovation work - the piggery is now the reception and tearoom, the stable block houses traditional Suffolk carts and the house is open for visitors. Malcolm and his team have further plans to sympathetically bring other buildings back to use, such as the Cider House and the other buildings standing on the estate.

Malcolm has been involved with Godolphin for more than 15 years and to say he is passionate about the place is an understatement. Arguably he knows the 600-acre estate and all that comes with it better than anyone else on the staff today and describes Godolphin as his steam engine. ‘Many men of my age have a project, Godolphin is mine,’ he says. His knowledge of Godolphin, the estate, house and local area is astounding.

Malcolm had been warned that once you get to know Godolphin, you’ll never leave. He even jokes that when he finally retires, he’ll come back as a volunteer of which Godolphin has 95 working all over the estate, 50 having recently received their five-year service award.

With visitor numbers in excess of 50,000 a year and rising, Godolphin’s fan club is set to expand. The three-acres of cultivated garden surrounding Godolphin house is classed as a scheduled listed garden and thought to be one of the oldest gardens in Europe. Its gardener-in-charge Juliet Turner has spent six years with the National Trust previously at Coleton Fishacre, at Cotehele and has been at Godolphin for two years.

‘I love all of Godolphin,’ she says. ‘Particularly the Side Garden. The atmosphere is very special as it’s the oldest part of the garden and even has a medieval fish pond.’

The Side Garden’s intriguing vistas contribute to the atmosphere. There is a new view at each turn; a different aspect from which to view the garden. It is gently unnerving and unique.

Juliet explains its charm. ‘With raised turf walks it feels like a forgotten formal garden, a ghost of a garden,’ she says. ‘I love its medieval layout, its openness. You can see the bones of a formal garden at this time of year. The walks and the sunken garden, the most ancient part of the garden is obvious now, it’s lovely that you can 
see it.’

The King’s Garden was originally a privy garden planted in the 1500s, this secret garden; only accessed through a folly or from the house itself has a magical feeling of seclusion. Its high walls, proximity to the house and the air heavy with history, it’s no surprise that this part of the garden is a favourite spot for visitors to reflect and stay awhile. The perennial borders tumbling with pink, purple, blues and whites, not to mention the lavender and box hedges, all harking back to this garden’s historic roots creating a thoroughly convincing historical horticultural display.

Juliet picks a few of her favourite plants

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’

Beautiful clusters of flowers, pink fading to red that bees and butterflies

just can’t get enough of. Also great structure in the garden at this time of

year until the first hard frosts.

Eupatorim ligularium

Another firm favourite with wildlife. This statuesque perennial is perfect for anywhere where there is plenty of space so it is quite at home at Godolphin.


Nothing says autumn in the garden quite like Michaelmas Daisies, a bittersweet sight as they are such an abundant floral display in the border but you know that they mean cooler temperatures and shorter days.

Lathyrus latifolius Perennial sweet pea

An under used plant in the garden, why wouldn’t you want a perennial sweet pea?

Helianthemum ‘Lemon Queen’

This particular perennial holds its sunny head face to face with yours, perfect for studying the delicate yellow blooms.


Well known for its high-summer, pimms drinking associations but its starry

sky-blue flowers keep that feeling going well into the autumn.

Wildflower garden

The informality here is what appeals to Juliet, an oasis of relaxed wildflowers against the more formal house and gardens creates a powerful effect and goes to show in design terms, something a little unexpected can be very effective.

Having completed the bulb order earlier in the year, Juliet begins planting in earnest through November. Not always the most enjoyable task particularly when there are thousands to be planted but spurred on by the promise of spring glory, crawling around on hands and knees getting blistered for your troubles somehow seems worth it. Tulips, lilies, snake’s head fritillaries, Anemone nemerosa, cyclamen will all bloom making spring something extra to look forward to at Godolphin.

Godolphin’s fascinating story is one of Cornwall’s true historical page-turners and it’s definitely worth a visit, but be prepared to fall under its spell.


Godolphin House, Godolphin Cross, Helston, TR13 9RE

01736 763194 or

This article was first published in the January issue of Cornwall Life. To get the magazine every month to your home, subcribe at 08448484214 or

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