Explore the glorious gardens of Pencarrow

PUBLISHED: 16:14 03 July 2018

Pencarrow House © Thomas Magyar, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pencarrow House © Thomas Magyar, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


The Victorian planthunters changed Cornwall’s landscape forever – and among the most iconic of their imports is the monkey puzzle tree

One of the most iconic conifers in cultivation is The Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria araucana, its tiered branches and short, wide needles are easily recognisable even from a distance. A staple in many gardens, particularly fashionable during Victorian times, this tree with its comical name is inextricably linked to Pencarrow House near Bodmin.

In 1831, Sir William Molesworth began the process of recruiting a new head gardener and he had some exacting criteria. He insisted that the new head gardener must understand plantation horticulture as Sir William was specialising in rare conifers. He personally supervised the planting of every tree at Pencarrow. He later went on to finance plant collecting expeditions to the Far East and Western Australia introducing some of the rarest species of Araucaria from Australia.

Cornwall is no stranger to exciting plant introductions but the first specimen of Araucaria araucana was bought by Sir William Molesworth for the princely sum of 20 guineas in 1834. He even threw a party to commemorate the planting of this special tree. A well-known barrister of the time touched the sharp needles and stated that ‘It would be a puzzle for a monkey.’ The nickname stuck and is now more widely known that the tree’s Latin moniker.

Monkey Puzzle Tree (copyright Pencarrow)Monkey Puzzle Tree (copyright Pencarrow)

The present 50 acre garden was laid out in the 1830s. The radical statesman and later Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir William Molesworth, together with his head gardener, Thomas Corbett designed and planted the gardens between 1831-55. Known in part for its specimen trees supplied to the garden by such horticultural royalty as Douglas, Lobb and Wallich, Pencarrow is another of Cornwall’s historically important gardens.

The house and gardens went into a slow decline after the First World War, as many large gardens did without their workforce, until the mid-1970s when the present family took residence here and it has been in restoration ever since.

Bringing us right up to date head gardener Gavin Vague has been in post for 25 years having started work at Pencarrow in 1988 as a junior gardener. ‘I work closely with the Molesworth St Aubyn family regarding the plans for the gardens,’ he explains. Having been involved in the Moles Garden from the planning stage, it is one of Gavin’s favourite areas of Pencarrow. He also takes great joy from the planting combinations made up of the wild flowers, pink campion and bluebells as well as wood anemone presenting their pink, blue and white colour scheme in early summer. There is something extra special about a planting display which has been entirely created by nature.

Gardeners outside of the glasshouse in the 1900s.Gardeners outside of the glasshouse in the 1900s.

July is a busy time of the year in all gardens and Pencarrow is no exception ‘I will be kept busy with grass cutting, in particular our hay meadow and the wild flowers. Also summer pruning of spring flower and summer shrubs,’ says Gavin. ‘There will still be rhododendron in flower in July and the hydrangeas may be starting to come out.’

The Moles Garden which was planted in 2002 as a memorial to Sir Arscott Molesworth St Aubyn follows the course of the stream and is planted with a plethora of moisture loving plants. This are of the garden will be coming into its own during the height of the summer.

The floral extravaganza kicks off with Snowdrop Sundays in February, followed by a stunning display of camellias and more than 600 varieties of rhododendron culminating in a crescendo of colour in early summer. Carpets of wild garlic and bluebells in combination with fresh new, bud-breaking leaves and that perfect spring-fresh green are a sign that the spring is in full swing throughout the woodlands at Pencarrow. The baton of floral interest is passed on to The Memorial Garden which provides a summer display of hydrangeas, fuchsias and azaleas, colour persists into the autumn months.

Pencarrow HousePencarrow House

An Iron Age hill fort an ancient Cornish cross add a further layer of rugged history to the garden, the rock garden – believed to be one of the first created in the UK – was unsurprisingly built of granite brought down from Bodmin Moor. The scale allows it to have been planted with trees and shrubs perfect for inspiration for rock gardens at home. Most people go wrong when not being generous or brave enough with the size of rockery, the size of the stones used to build the rockery or the size and quantity of plants positioned. It’s one case in the garden where bigger is better. Of course smaller alpines planted in containers and troughs look beautiful but when it comes to the rock garden always try to make it as big as space allows.

With something for everyone, Pencarrow’s garden has formal spaces, tightly mown lawns, beautifully edged with a razor-sharp finish and laid out in a more traditional style and wild spaces with mature tree and shrub plantings overflowing with those Cornish garden staples that delight all visitors regardless of botanical knowledge and experienced. They can be appreciated by all. A series of circular walks of differing lengths (and some wheelchair access) are a great way to explore and enjoy the garden.

A stunning rhododendron in full flower at PencarrowA stunning rhododendron in full flower at Pencarrow





PL30 3AG

01208 841369


Events during summer 2018 at Pencarrow include:

Hits from the Blitz

17th August 2018

£15 on the gate or £12 in advance.

Tickets are available from the Pencarrow Shop or the office 01208 841369 and various outlets in Wadebridge and Bodmin, check website for details.

Latest from the Cornwall Life