PUBLISHED: 22:36 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:23 30 August 2017
Chygurno gardens in the Cornish village of Lamorna is a unique 3 acre cliffside garden in west Cornwall
If ever proof were needed of the tenacious force that is Mother Nature, Chygurno in the village of Lamorna outside of Penzance provides a convincing case, as there is a garden where there should be none.
Three-and-a-half acres of north-east facing cliff top, sloping down towards the sea is alive with floral brilliance and amazing horticultural feats nestled between huge chunks of granite is a garden.
In 1908, the house at Chygurno was built for two suffragettes from London who founded the Women’s' Social and Political Union in Penzance, after this the house became a refuge for ladies leaving prison, allowing them a place where they could recuperate. Robert and Carol Moule moved to Chygurno in 1997 after it had been empty for 20 years and they began working on the garden in 1999.
'Gardening is not straightforward at Chygurno and certainly not for the faint-hearted, the site faces north-east, it slopes steeply and of course is little more than a stones-throw from the sea and that presents as many problems as perks when it comes to growing plants.'
Robert and Carol overcame the topography by installing terraces, staircases and gravelled paths, Robert explains the logistics of moving over 100 tonnes of gravel around such a steep garden, describing the ingenious solution 'A system of pipes and a hopper meant that we were able to direct the gravel down the garden and then spread it around, it's not a garden for wheelbarrows!'
Granite out-crops pepper the garden, visible stone being easier to deal with than those under the ground for granite is such an integral part of the landscape here,that large pieces are never far away. In fact the opposite side of the valley has been quarried extensively with Cornish stone so sought after that it was shipped from Penzance to build the London Embankment.
Gardening is not straightforward at Chygurno and certainly not for the faint-hearted, the site faces north-east, it slopes steeply and of course is little more than a stones-throw from the sea and that presents as many problems as perks when it comes to growing plants. Thin, poor soil of little depth, not what most gardeners would chose but Robert explains why this works to his advantage; 'It’s perfect for the plants that we grow, many South African and New Zealand natives.’
The pure detective work that the couple have carried out over the years is phenomenal, uncovering long-forgotten flights of granite stairs, abandoned look-out points and fascinating botanical relics. Not to mention discovering the view, it is hard to imagine, but on arrival 16 years ago, there was no sea view such was the density of the impenetrable bramble, blackthorn, buddleja and escalonia that faced Robert and Carol.
Undeterred Robert remembers exploring the garden with an iron bar to feel for depth of soil and to locate any underlying stone that would hamper future plant growth 'We first terraced the top so that we had somewhere to stand when clearing and planting and then just kept going!.'
Following the zigzagging paths down through the garden and you’ll be faced with a number of choice plants. A lovely mature banksia complete with cones - a real thrill to see such a large specimen. Sharon fruit and pomegranate continue to add interest; it’s fascinating to see how these fruits grow, even if a fruit salad is unlikely.
Hebe diosmifolia from New Zealand has frothy clouds of tiny white, blush purple flowers held above miniature glossy, evergreen leaves it’s the hebe for people who are a little sniffy about hebes and well worth the space in any border.
Another plant of note to look out for is Pachystegia known as the Marlborough Rock Daisy, a beautiful perennial from New Zealand with silvery undersides to its leaves and buds that picks out the quartz in the granite, a sparkling combination.
Olearias are a great plant for a maritime situation; they tolerate strong salty winds and can be kept in check to the point of creating a hedge. Here at Chygurno Olearia lacunosa is doing what this plant does best.
An orchard, recently relocated to a flatter area of the garden to make the apple harvest easier is a pleasant discovery and a timely reminder that it is possible to grow a wide range of plants if chosen well.
'Robert and Carol overcame the topography by installing terraces, staircases and gravelled paths'
Robert and Carol’s knowledge of the site and the unpredictability of the elements shines throughout the garden, finding the balance between knowing when to encourage a plant and when to give up. The protea bed is a fine example. It was moved to a more sheltered position after the bad weather four years ago, these stunning South African plants are now settling in and thriving.
Deeper into the garden, an impressive tree fern grove, including many self-seeded specimens, changes the mood. A perfectly placed bridge provides a view into the heart of the glorious frondy centres.
On the climb back to the house a Buddleja salviifolia, a species of this plant that has real garden merit with its raspberry scent, pale purple flowers and grey-green foliage provides delicious wafts of fragrance, from this path there is a view of a large Cordyline indivisa a beautiful broad-leaved cabbage palm but a bit of a tricky customer as it needs good drainage but likes it wet It is very happy here and this is an example of Robert and Carol’s plantsmanship.
Robert and Carol noticed a particularly special Camellia that flowered from December to May growing in the garden. Having propagated, waited four years for it to flower and showing it at the RHS Spring Show, Camellia Lamorna’ is now on sale.
During July the crocosmia will be in bloom, fiery hues held on arching stems create real heat in the garden and along with the red-hot pokers, they make pretty steamy bed-fellows. The agapanthus will be flowering that perfect blue and cooling things down, mirroring the colour of sea and sky on a good day.
At this time of the year visitors will find Robert and Carol keeping on top of the weeding with Harry and Ronnie their two dogs never too far away. 'We work in the garden as much as we can' explains Carol; 'Mainly on good days!' chips in Robert. Carol continues;’ The main bulk of the pruning and clearing is carried out in the autumn as once the daffodils and bluebells are out, we can't get on the beds.'
When visiting a cliff-top garden there are certain expectations; a fabulous view, a range of plants that tolerate salt and wind and possibly a few tender beauties that grow well because of the microclimate near the coast. When visiting Chygurno these expectations are met and exceeded but nothing can prepare you for the history and horticultural intrigue that accompany the stunning sights.
Dr & Mrs Robert Moule