Finding the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Intrigued by the secrets beneath the leafy veil, my curious nature diverted my gaze towards the privately owned (no National Trust interference here then) Lost Gardens of Heligan in St Austell. So long in the shadow of its illustrious Eden neighbour, this sleeping giant has now awoken from its slumber courtesy of a little help from a violent 1990 hurricane. Mother Nature did well by unveiling what now sprawls in all directions across 200 acres before me.
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tropical plants, kingfishers, getting away from it all, walking, picnics
April 1 - September 30, 10am - 6pm
October 1 - March 31, 10am - 5pm
The secrets of Heligan have been thrown wide open and first timers like myself can absorb its awe-inspiring beauty where a little imagination can transport you to a bygone era, for both horticultural experts or those who simply marvel at such quintessential British delights. Created by members of the Tremayne family, these nineteenth century gardens provide zoned areas of botanical delight all seamlessly growing into one lost world.
With secrets waiting to be unlocked, a sense of mystery and intrigue awaits around each luscious corner. Personally it is much more rewarding to throw caution to the routes on the map and simply explore on a whim; this is how I ended up immersing myself in a jungle trek surrounded by giant banana plantations and rhubarb plants for the best part of a morning. The perfect excuse for indulging in a little lunchtime snack produced on the premises and re-fueling for the forthcoming explorations. Restored to their former glory, The Northern Gardens take you on a horticultural world journey and act as a window to the past. A kaleidoscope of colours and scents provide a sensory overload, alas no photograph or word can do justice to experiencing these up close and personal.
An abundance of wildlife fills the parameters of Heligan, spread within the grounds of the 100 acres of Wider Estate and original Heligan Home Farm. A network of ancient pastures, woodland and wetland allow the perfect setting for tranquil bird watching, the site of my first sighting of the elusive kingfisher, too quick for the camera. More static, camera friendly objects are mysteriously positioned in the aptly named Lost Valley. Akin to the remains of an ancient civilisation, even prior knowledge of their location does little to soften the surprise of discovering The Giants’s Head or Grey Lady emerging along the Woodland Walk. A little less subtle is the addition of Europe’s only remaining pineapple pit, exotic it may be in name but the rotting manure creating it masks preconceived tropical delight.
As a solo intrepid explorer the only concern is having no one to share these magical gardens with, but comfortable in my own company this is no great disappointment. Everyone likes to find their own little haven and Heligan is nothing short of these. If you wanted to hold a world championship of hide and seek then Heligan would win hands down although I’m sure I witnessed parents leaving at the end of the day minus family members! Couples stroll through the bluebell fields without a care in the world while others simply take time out to absorb the callings of native wildlife.
Heligan has a rolling program of activities ranging from Miracle Theatre, wildlife activity trails, a celebration of British bees and bat nights but equally, your day can be dictated by the sighting of a rare species, a frolicking newborn or the flourishing of seasonal plant life. A constantly changing calendar of natural events provides an experience unlike any other and one which will see me returning, if only to catch that elusive kingfisher on film. Maybe I will simply return to the award winning tearoom, shop and plant centre which allow free entry and reason enough to return and sample the array of bakery treats alongside a seasonally varying lunch menu. You simply can’t beat a fresh Cornish pasty with ice cream to cleanse the pallet and there is no shortage of trails to walk it off.
Words cannot do justice to this Cornish jewel, though Eden Project founder Tim Smit fittingly describes Heligan as “so much more than a garden; it is a place in the soul.”