This week we are introducing you to Alex Goodyear and his expert knowledge on Trebah Gardens in Cornwall.
The 29th of March was an exciting day for many Cornish garden goers as it marked the re-opening of one of its finest horticultural gems, Trebah Gardens. As a local gardener I was buzzing to have a peek around the grounds, especially at the switch to spring when the Camellias, Rhododendrons and Magnolias are a symphony of colour and scent. Like many, my enthusiasm for green spaces has been heightened over the course of the pandemic. Now with the weather warming and restrictions easing, we can get back to exploring the fantastic array of truly exceptional gardens the county has to offer.
Source: Trebah Garden
Of course, with the re-opening comes new Covid secure practices including essential booking and a traffic light system at the beach. Another measure to encourage social distancing is a one-way system of sorts, connecting some 4 miles of footpath that wind their way through the 26-acre site. As you pass through the visitor centre, you are guided towards the only piece of lawn adjoining the more formal terraces that surround the Georgian house. These beds exhibit many exotic species including an array of architectural succulents, proud Echiums and hypnotic plants from the Protea family to name a few.
Making a Garden Great
Growing such plants, in wet and windy climates susceptible to frost, is only made possible by careful development. Planning started back in the early 19th century when the shelterbelt Oaks and evergreens were planted along the ravine edges by Charles Fox, whose family name is associated with other nearby gardens such as Penjerrick and Glendurgan. As the trees matured, they offered much needed protection from the harsh winter winds that could so easily end these somewhat tender species. This creation of a microclimate within the already mild and protected estuary has provided the perfect recipe for getting playful with exotics.
The shared work of the Fox family helped in naturalising some of the rare Camellia and Rhododendron varieties collected by plant hunters well known to the area. This, followed with the dedicated and tireless efforts of the previous owners, patrons and garden staff in continuing this vision, has created something of a paradise, a valley of dreams if you fancy, well worthy of its status as one of the Great Gardens of Cornwall.
Looking back over the lawn reveals the truly jaw-dropping beauty of the gardens with stretching views of the tree lined valley as it tumbles some 70-odd meters down to meet the Helford estuary, impeded only by the floriferous crowns of champion Rhodies. Aside the lawn, in full glory, the pale-yellow blooms of the Acacia pravissima catch the spring sun and turn it to cascades of sublime frothiness.
Source: Trebah Garden
Following the Stream
Along the path you meet the spring fed Koi pond, a serene spot where bright ornamental fish swim lazily in the shade of neighbouring ferns and palms. The trickling stream finds its way through the water garden where it falls gently under the meandering path. This is an area you mustn’t miss. A myriad of foliage is offered at your feet with soft spoon-shaped leaves of Candelabra Primulas interplanted between blades of Irises and arrows of Zantedeschia. As you follow the stream down you will come by the champion Dicksonia antarctica or Tasmanian Tree Fern. It sits amidst its peers and is recognisable, not only by the plaque at its base but also by the many epiphytes sharing its trunk, including a relatively large Rhododendron which lends to its great age.
Past the tree ferns the stream works its way through tranquil ponds surrounded by clumps of towering bamboo with stems thicker than scaffolding poles. The lemon-yellow spathes of Western Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) punctuate the damp ground at the pond margins. This is a magnificent area throughout the year and is bound to capture the imaginations of little ones as they scurry playfully amongst the canes and botanical sculptures.
Carry on through the ‘bamboozle’ and behold the valley as it opens to reveal the army of Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) marching to the shore. At this time of year, having only recently broken its winter slumber, spiny stems hold unfurling leaves as otherworldly flower spikes make their way skywards.
Source: Trebah Garden
What’s Still to Come
Beyond lies Mallard Pond, encompassed in Hydrangeas it makes a famous sight come summer, with views back up the vale awash in blue and white. Gunnera will manifest into a sea of green; a blanket canopy with leaves reaching 2 meters wide. Sooner still, Bluebells are starting to open with promises to carpet the gardens slopes in hues of violet-blue. Autumn brings about a kind of psychedelic chaos, brimming with colour provided by Acers, Davidias, Beeches and more.
The UK Champion Acer palmatum stands proud here at 19.3m with a girth of 1.92m and, especially in later months, is a spectacle worth stopping for. Then, as the leaves drop and are returned to the soil, the 19 County, 10 Country and 8 UK Champion trees come to dominate the gardens.
There genuinely never is a dull moment here as something in the botanic collection is always looking its finest. It really is one of those ‘gardens for all seasons’ sure to leave you feeling completely inspired.