A WORLD OF GARDENS AT HEARTLANDS
PUBLISHED: 13:53 11 April 2017 | UPDATED: 13:23 30 August 2017
It’s been almost five years since Heartlands opened on a former mining wasteland - and its Diaspora Gardens represent the four corners of the globe where Cornish men and women emigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries
Cornwall’s gardens are famed for the work of the Victorian planthunters who brought us back everything from the giant Wellingtonia in North America to the ferns and orchids of South East Asia – but much of Cornwall’s plantlife can be put down to something more accidental – and for some catastrophic.
The diaspora displaced hundreds of thousands of Cornish people who travelled to the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa to escape the dire economic conditions at home brought about - in part - by the collapse of the tin mining industry. Known as Cousin Jacks, the descendents of these Cornish émigrés now number six million people around the world. And as well as taking some of Cornwall’s culture - check out the pasty shacks to be found in Australia – Cornwall’s landscape has been influenced by these far corners of the world – not least in our gardens. the perfect example of course, is the cordyline (Cordyline Australis) which we’ve come to know as the Cornish Palm.
But for a real horticultural history lesson head to Heartlands in Pool; this former industrial wasteland which was once part of Crofty Mine, is now a complex of arts studios, café, a giant playground and housing - and is also home to the Diaspora Botanical Garden.
This series of garden rooms is designed around the plants of each of the places that Cornish men and women travelled to. Set in approximately 2.5 hectares of the 19-acre Heartlands site, the gardens sit in a quiet corner that can be easily overlooked and form part of this five-year-old attraction that remains free to visit all year round. The gardens attract around 30,000 people each year – about one in ten people who visit Heartlands. They were commissioned as part of the Heartlands project to reflect the flora and fauna that the diaspora (meaning dispersion) émigrés encountered, but also those they brought back to Cornwall with them and that took to the rich local soil and are now seen thriving in many of the world-famous sub-tropical gardens, collections and nurseries seen in Cornwall today. A walk around the gardens will reveal many familiar plants and shrubs and people exclaiming I didn’t know that came from New Zealand’. The gardens are cleverly bordered by a red brick-lined river which runs towards the main buildings and mimics the local Red River which carried mining waste, and after which the centre’s Red River Café is named. Created from the old carpenter’s workshop, the café interior has been minimally converted and serves a mean home-made soup.
The whole site is built around Robinson’s Shaft – which remains visible throughout much of the botanical gardens – serves as a reminder that these lush tropical gardens sits on former mining land. Each garden is approximately half the size of a football pitch and represents an area of the world where the Cornish emigrated in large numbers. The perfect time to visit is on a cold, clear blue Cornish winter day, when you will be struck by the evergreen colours and even the occasional flower. Even while building work continues around the site adding additional housing which formed part of the original plans for the site, the gardens remain a quiet spot for contemplation – or at least it did on my visit.
New Zealand – Many of the plants we find in our Cornish gardens are descended from the exotic species sent home from New Zealand to our famous houses and gardens owned by the great mining families of previous centuries that proved to flourish in our slightly milder climes. They also had an important role in regenerating Cornwall’s landscape blighted by centuries of mining. The Cordyline Australis (better known as the Cornish palm) has become more of an emblem of our county and of the horticultural industry that Cornwall is now famous for.
Australia – between 1815 and 1930 more than half a million Cornish people left the country to find new work or join families who had already left. Many of them went to Australia – where there are now many Cornish associations keeping the spirit of Kernow alive through festivals.
North America – the gardens represent Grass Valley in Navada County in California, where the Empire Mine opened in the 1870s and was worked on by many Cornish men and was famed for its use of Cornish technology – including steam pumping. Today the state park holds a Cornish Christmas and St Piran’s Day - and they serve a mean pasty.
South America – the gardens here remember the Cornish miners and engineers – and the strain of pasty that is served in Mexico made with chillies and known locally as pastes. As with many émigrés, the Cornish brought with them their sports - the first Mexican football club (called Pachuca Athletic Club) contained only Cornishmen.
South Africa – At one time one in four of the white workforce in South Africa was Cornish. Cornwall was instrumental in the diamond mining thanks to its miners expertise with hard rock mining – and Cousin Jacks fed the gold rushes in the 1880s. Like so many first generation émigrés, Cornish people sent money home – taking around £1m out of the economy and causing tensions with the local population which sent many Cornishmen home.