PENCARN: THE CYCLAMEN GARDEN IN WADEBRIDGE
PUBLISHED: 17:39 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:24 30 August 2017
Head to Pencarn where the lawn erupts into a cornucopia of spring flowers, writes Louise Danks...
Overlooking the town of Wadebridge along a tree-lined avenue is Pencarn. The phrase a plantsman’s garden’ is often bandied around, here there is no more apt a description for a space. Trevor Wiltshire has had a lifetime of passion for plants. A former building society manager who became a superintendent at the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden Wisley, Trevor had an interest in wild flowers from an early age. He was introduced to the wonderful world of fuchsias by a colleague, this led to him joining his local fuchsia group and winning an RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal. An active member of the Cornwall Garden Society, he is also credited with starting the Alpine Garden Society in Cornwall and for creating the garden at his home, Pencarn.
A canopy provided by mature beech trees brings with it dappled shade and plenty of fallen leaves come autumn. Trevor is a big fan of composting and collecting leaves to make leaf mould which he stores in large tonne bags – the type builders’ merchants use to deliver aggregate. This home-grown, not to mention free growing medium is a valuable commodity. Trevor uses the leaf mould to top dress the borders and the compost to mulch. It keeps the weeds down, improves the soil structure and is the ultimate exercise in recycling.
Ten cubic metres of grey water is collected from the roof of the house and stored in tanks under a terrace, Trevor has a network of leaky pipes threading through the borders at Pencarn. The soil is very poor and made up of a large proportion of shillet, scrappy stone, coupled with the gentle sloping topography which makes this a very free-draining, dry garden. To prevent the need for watering and the expense it entails the watering system is a necessity in a garden of this size that is so densely planted.
The vegetable garden at the bottom of Pencarn is extensively cropped and feeds Trevor and his extended family well into the following growing year. Soft fruit, apple trees and an impressive range of vegetables fill the table and the freezer. This area of the garden is also home to three greenhouses and a number of cold frames absolutely crammed full of Trevor’s collections. Cyclamen at all stages of growth – collected seeds just germinating and more mature plants in full leaf and flower form Trevor’s research into this fascinating genus of plants.
Further collections include Roscoea which according to Trevor are perfect for Cornish gardens because of the high levels of rainfall we experience here and the cooler summer months. This exotic looking perennial plant flowers through the summer months. Another of the collections held here is a tiny South African alpine plant which should be better known is the Rhodohypoxis, short, grassy leaves and charming flowers of stout petals seemingly without a centre in colours from white through various shades of pink to red is dormant in the winter and must be kept dry, it springs into life with raising temperatures and some spring rainfall. Perfect grown in pans or troughs if you come across either of these plants – the Roscoea or the Rhodohypoxis, give them a go.
The camellias, dwarf rhododendrons and magnolias are all in bloom as expected at this time of year but the specialist, more unusual plants can also be seen, the Beschorneria are in flower in April, along with the Podophyllum with its palmate, sometimes variegated leaves and frilly flowers produced under the leaf. Epimedium as ground cover are found in abundance, the delicate arcs of spidery blooms are held above the mat of glossy leaves in the spring. Bulbs continue to add value to the garden, the Cyclamen coum and Narcissus bulbocodium are still showing colour.
Crocus, snowdrops, Luecojum – the snowflake, narcissi, dog’s tooth violets and anemones are found in abundance adding an extra dimension to the borders; a costume change to enhance the successional planting that Trevor has developed. The traditional time for moving and dividing snow drops is in-the-green’, when the flowers have gone over but the leaves are still visible. Because the root system of the snow drop is perennial, you should really divide them in June when the roots are dormant otherwise it’ll take a full year for the plant to recover before they begin to bulk up,’ explains Trevor.
Trevor created all of the hard landscaping features in the garden including the stunning rockeries and two large ponds seamlessly incorporated into the garden close to the house. Planted generously and a haven for wildlife this area is a valuable and diverse habitat yet still in keeping with the rest of the garden.
The deep sweeping borders meander through the garden, each full of shrubs, perennials, bulbs and palm each plant telling a story, triggering a memory, a fact or anecdote from Trevor. A curved raised bed planted with palms leads from the house to the workshop, under planted with a carpet of spring bulbs and primulas, the elevated situation means that those precious rarities are displayed and enjoyed at eye level. Exploring Trevor’s garden you’ll notice a number of slim jam jars laid on their side, hidden almost our of view in the borders. These have slug pellets in them, the birds and hedgehogs can’t get to the poison and the pellets stay dry. The dead pests are easy to dispose of too.’
In many gardens the lawn is a missed opportunity when it comes to adding colour beyond green, at Pencarn the lawns are fair game for planting, Crocus tommasinianus naturalised throughout the turf, purple petals opening wide in the sunshine, Narcissus bulbocodium with its generous trumpet and the more delicate Narcissus cyclamineus with its recurved petals break up the green of the sward and add interest from the earliest months of the year.
Every corner and surface is a planting opportunity reinforced by Trevor’s vast experience. Pencarn is a masterclass in choosing the right plant for the right place, no such thing as a problem area’ here. It’s not a garden to be rushed if you want to see everything and so much the better if you get the chance to chat to Trevor, his knowledge and stories are fascinating, you’ll receive a botany lecture without realising it!