Tell the kids there about to go with you to tour some gardens, and there might be a protest. Tell them they are exploring the Lost Gardens of Heligan, and instantly they’ll be intrigued. Aside from a fascinating history: gardens created by generations of the Tremayne family in the 19th century but which, following the First World War, fell into neglect until ‘found’ and restored in the 1990s, this is a Cornish attraction with plenty to captivate all ages.
But let’s start with those gardens, over 200 acres divided into the Northern Gardens, Wider Estate, Horsemoor Hide …and Jungle.
These have been restored to their original glory, when as many as 22 gardeners once worked at Heligan, and encompass the Victorian Productive Gardens which supplied kitchen and table at the Big House and which today provides Heligan Tearoom with fresh seasonal product. The Vegetable Garden, walled Flower Garden and Melon Yard are an education in traditional crop growing and exotic glasshouse fruit production. Within the Northern Gardens the Pleasure Grounds, with some plantings over 150 years old, have many delightful features and plants collected from around the world, it is home to the National Collection of ‘Camellias and Rhododendrons introduced to Heligan pre-1920’.
Horsemoor hide is where to head to for a deeper investigation into the wildlife of Heligan, with the gardens and estate actively managed to encourage various species. In addition to images created in the ‘x-ray studio’ to show otherwise hidden aspects, with magnification by up to 100x, of flora and fauna, there is live and recorded footage and opportunity for sensitive wildlife interaction.
The wider estate comprises ancient pastures, woodland and wetland, as well as ponds and lakes spread over 100 acres. Within the ancient woodlands, a sheltered path features woodland sculptures and bat boxes. The ‘Lost Valley’ is carpeted with bluebells in spring and has two lakes where otters and wintering Kingfishers may be spotted. Lost Valley Charcoal is produced here and sold, with hand turned furniture from on-site workshops, in the Heligan Shop. Part of this section of Heligan was the original Home Farm and a herd of Dexter cattle can be seen in the fields, with chicken, duck and geese in the Poultry Orchard.
Jungle is part of a steep-sided valley thickly covered in weird and exotic plants garnered from across the world by Victorian and also more recent collectors. A raised boardwalk takes a path across four ponds, plantations of giant rhubarb, banana, palms and along tunnels of towering bamboo. If a certain TV programme where celebrities survive a jungle experience is among your favourites, this area will certainly give you a taste of it.
On a historical note, Heligan was the Tremayne family seat for over 400 years and its thousand acres were glorious at the end of the 19th century, before left to run riot as ivy and bramble took over. The unearthing of a tiny room in one of the walled gardens with the words ‘Don’t come here to sleep or slumber’ and dated 1914, sparked the desire to bring these gardens back to their former life. The award winning project continues.
Other features the kids are sure to love are the 100ft long, scary rope bridge, stretched over towering ferns and giant cunnera, in Jungle, which was introduced in April 2014, and in accordance with an archive photo of an emu on the front lawn, a pair of birds have now returned to add further authenticity to how the scene would have appeared a century earlier.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are just over 12 miles from Trenython Manor, and far from crying ‘get me outta here’, kids will have to be prised away from them!