Gardens - Restoring a Great Estate

PUBLISHED: 14:44 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013

Restoring a Great Estate 1

Restoring a Great Estate 1

Terry Underhill traces the Trevarno Estate's fascinating history and looks at what is planned for the future in this December / January issue. Garden historians have traced this famous estate at Crowntown, near Helston as far back as 1245. It has ...

Garden historians have traced the Trevarno Estate at Crowntown, near Helston as far back as 1245. It has been owned by many notable families, the last of which was the Bickford-Smith family who purchased around 1,000 acres in 1874.

Whereas many estates were broken up, Trevarno stayed relatively intact until put up for sale in 1994 by Peter Bickford-Smith who had inherited the property in 1975. The estate was divided into 33 lots to make disposal manageable. Thankfully, and somewhat bravely, Mike Sagin and Nigel Helsby arranged the purchase of all 33 lots, in total comprising around 750 acres, along with Trevarno House, cottages, buildings, farms, woodlands and gardens. A year later, an imaginative estate regeneration programme was under way, comprising a range of income-producing projects that were sensitive to both the estate and the local environment, with items for sale being grown, designed, manufactured or produced at Trevarno.

Previous owners had made major contributions to the wealth of trees and shrubs on the estate. Within the gardens, there are more than 120 different species of conifers in the pinetum planted by William Bickford-Smith, who also planted at least 30,000 trees of different species in 1883. Peter Bickford-Smith, a keen gardener and member of the Cornwall Garden Society dramatically increased the range of plants grown, which, because of the mild local climate included numerous plants from the warm countries of the southern hemisphere.

Various tithe maps have revealed plans for the long-term development and alterations to the basic design of the estate and gardens. This valuable historical information is helping the restoration programme. The layout of the walled garden, created around 1838, with the glasshouses added a little later, is now known; so too is the history of the current shape of the lake and its photogenic boathouse and cascade, and the layout of the terraces and the grotto-cum-rockery, which contains two old mortar stones used for hand-grinding tin ore or tin-rich slag, and a large granite trough, thought to have been stood on by John Wesley when he preached in the area.

Before opening for visitors, highway improvement and woodland clearance along entrance roads was a priority, along with the removal of dangerous and fallen trees. A vast beech tree which had recently fallen into the lake took five men five weeks to remove. Hundreds of tonnes of silt were removed from the lake, the main garden surrounding the house was tidied up and basic facilities such as toilets and entrance kiosks installed. At the side of the house, a large conservatory was constructed - the Fountain Garden Conservatory - with a selection of shrubs, tree ferns, palms and climbers around a large central fountain. It is used by the Fountain Caf, where superb refreshments and light meals are produced from local produce.

Visitors enter the garden from the car park past the ticket kiosk, a small plant centre and the National Museum of Gardening, in a specially designed large building. The vast range of gardening tools, equipment and memorabilia is worth a visit on its own, and if that visit into the world of gardening history and nostalgia is not enough, next door is the Colin Gregory Toy Collection. The path down to the courtyard, designed for wheelchair access, is well planted on either side. Visitors can enter the garden through the Fountain Conservatory or through the double gates onto the Sundial Lawn and round the house, past the shop.

Looking down the main lawn, there is a line of flowering cherries, some of the 21 different types to be found throughout the garden, with a serpentine yew tunnel behind. On the left is a 'plantsman's' sunny bank, packed with quality plants from around the world, providing colour and interest all year. Above this is a summerhouse, which was constructed in the early 1900s and which used to be cranked around to follow the sun; sadly, the gearing is now rusted beyond redemption.

Visitors are given a map on arrival, with a suggested route, and won't fail to notice the peacocks that strut around as if they own the place. You enter the Italian Garden through a wrought-iron gate: this has a fountain in the middle, as well as a colonnade feature at the far end. Beds of roses are edged, not with the usual box, but with well-clipped Camellia 'Cornish Spring'. From here the path wends its way down through a wooded area, the ground cover of bluebells being a dramatic sight in the spring. Lights installed along the paths create a magical effect at night.

Next is a developing bog garden, with giant Gunnera manicata, while nearby is a family dog and cat cemetery. A series of ancient drainage leats are passed before a gentle climb up into the garden. Trevarno Lake, surrounded by magnificent trees, has a specimen Taxodium distichum on an island and a Gothic boat-house complete with stained-glass windows, and is exceptionally photogenic, particularly when one of the resident black-necked swans swims into view.

Water enters the lake over a broad cascade. Here is the start of the pinetum and a recently planted collection of tree ferns. Beyond this is the grotto and rockery. From the cascade end of the lake, a series of paths wend their way through the pinetum to ancient terraces with a comprehensive collection of trees and large shrubs, too numerous to list, although mention should be made of a huge Magnolia x veitchii, one of 36 magnolia species growing throughout the garden.

A very large Gothic potting shed, used to house the boiler for the walled garden, faces a lawn and a number of large dome-shaped purple cut-leaved maples. A series of more paths, beds and borders leads back to the Sundial Lawn and a wooden platform, where visitors can look out over the lake and nearby woodlands.

There is a plan to restore the dilapidated glasshouses in the walled garden, with the help of a retired civil engineer. Other plans include growing a wide range of cut flowers, vegetables and fruit, plus lavender and other herbs for use in Trevarno's herbal products. There is also to be a Heritage Seed collection,

In the few years that the new owners have been at Trevarno they, along with a dedicated team, have worked wonders on this historic garden.

Trevarno 01326 574274;

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