The snowdrops are blooming and the daffodils are pushing their way through the frozen soil, these bursts of vibrant colour in the dark months of January and February exude a sense of optimism. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I spot these bursts of much needed colour, my mind turns to the abundance of Spring, with warmer days and longer nights. Immediately I am inspired to get the gardening tools out and get my hands in the soil once again. One of my favourite things to do when not in my own garden is to visit some of the magnificent gardens this part of West Cornwall has to offer, so I thought I would pop down five of my favourite in this latest journal.
Cornwall is renowned for its mild climate, plentiful rainfall, and fertile soil, all of which contribute to the flourishing of its gardens. The county experiences a unique microclimate, influenced by the Gulf Stream, which brings warm air from the Atlantic Ocean, creating an ideal environment for a wide variety of plants to thrive. Cornwall’s gardens are a testament to the county’s rich horticultural history, dating back to the great Victorian plant-hunting expeditions. The seeds they brought back came from all over the World and helped create some truly magnificent examples of living theatre, the Great Gardens of Cornwall. These gardens showcase a diverse range of plant species, including exotic and rare varieties, as well as traditional English garden flowers. As a dog owner, who likes to include my furry friends in all my favourite activities, I have only included dog friendly options.
A stunning sub-tropical paradise with a coastal backdrop. Located on the edge of the Helford River in Mawnan Smith, near Falmouth, Trebah is a beautiful 26-acre Cornish valley garden with over 4 miles of footpaths, vibrant tunnels of colour leading down to the coast and its own secluded beach on the Helford River. This incredible garden is steeped in history, spanning from Victorian plant hunters to ownership post war by racing driver and car designer Donald Healey. Probably best know for its D-day connections; on 1st June 1944 a regiment of 7,500 men along with tanks, guns and transport embarked from Trebah beach in 10 flat bottomed landing craft, they battled through enormous seas to the Isle of Wight and on to the D-Day assault, landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy and suffering terrible loses. A memorial at the bottom of the garden commemorates the courage of these brave young American soldiers.
Whilst Trebah offers visitors a year-round experience (Here for Opening Hours and Admission Prices) it is truly glorious in Spring when it comes alive with a colourful array of 100-year-old rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias. It is truly breath-taking and as a dog owner it is absolutely glorious to share the picturesque footpaths with my two rescue dogs, who love it there as much as I do.
It’s more than just a garden though, with a unique outdoor theatre, adventure play areas for children and education trails with prizes at the end and the fabulous Trebah kitchen, for a warming cuppa or a full-blown Sunday roast.
If Trebah leaves you wanting more then just next door is the magnificent National Trust garden of Glendurgan. Another stunning Cornish garden but its not dog-friendly so it hasn’t made my list!
This 15-acre garden, located on the beautiful Lands’ End peninsula, just West of Penzance, is one of the few old historic gardens in Cornwall still wholly owned and run by the same family that created it hundreds of years ago. Originally planted by Edward Bolitho, who was the owner of Trewidden House, in the 1840’s, Edward started by firstly planting woodland cover before filling it with plants newly introduced from Asia and the Southern Hemisphere, it has passed down through the Bolitho family over they years and is currently owned by Alverne Bolitho. The garden not only has a rich horticultural heritage but also an industrial one, once the site of an ancient tin mine, the old opencast mine may have been one of the earliest in the Duchy, dating back to Roman times or even before.
Set within the open cast mine is a stand of Tree Ferns, planted in 1902 having been collected in Australia in 1898, now said to be the finest collection of Tree Ferns in the Northern Hemisphere. Indeed, all the small Tree Ferns that now grow at Trewidden are juveniles from these original mother plants, some of which could be up to 150 years old. The garden is particularly beautiful in Spring, from March to June you will find a fabulous collection of Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Azeleas providing a riot of colour, all set within a mature woodland setting.
Trewidden is dog friendly and provides a stunning backdrop for you and your four-legged friend-to enjoy; it’s a large site but intimate with well-laid footpaths to explore. There is a beautiful walled garden to investigate, plants for sale and a lovely café providing refreshments and great food from 9.30 – 4.30 each day. For more information on opening hours, prices and accessibility click here.
3. Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens
Found in a beautiful sheltered valley, just outside Penzance, Tremenheere combines large-scale exotic and sub-tropical planting interwoven with an evolving programme of contemporary artworks from internationally renowned artists; all set within woodland overlooking St Michael’s Mount and the sparkling beauty of Mounts Bay. The land at the sculpture gardens in West Cornwall was once owned by the monks of St Michael’s Mount until 1295 when it was bought by Michael De Tremenheere, an established tenant farmer, the land remained in the Tremenheere name for 600 years; the land continued to be farmed until 1997 when Dr Neil Armstrong acquired the valley and began the development of the sculpture garden as we see it today.
The warmer winter temperatures and sheltered valley location create a favourable microclimate allowing exotic and half-hardy plants to flourish. The plants, particularly the notable collection of palm trees, tree ferns, succulents and bamboos create a restful verdancy, with each individual habitat carrying a unifying theme of sculptural forms, textures and colours. The strongly structural planting scheme with a sub-tropical emphasis, means the gardens do not follow a traditional spring flourish but have all-season interest.
The dramatic landscape and planting provide the backdrop to contemplative and inspiring artworks. Renowned artists, including five members of the Royal Academy of Arts, have interacted with the landscape to create site specific permanent sculptures, whilst the gardens also provide a forum for ever-changing temporary artworks.
In addition to the gardens, Tremenheere gallery is a beautiful oak framed building, with two exhibition spaces, one of the largest purpose-built gallery spaces in Cornwall. Also on site is the Tremenheere Kitchen, a wonderful restaurant for refreshments and beautiful locally sourced food, serving breakfast and lunches all year round, the restaurant and take-away hut are worth a visit in their own right; I can particularly recommend Sunday lunch here!
The gardens are dog friendly, if you wish to stop at the restaurant dogs are welcome outside but not inside.
4. Minack Theatre Garden
The Minack Theatre, located in the far west of Cornwall needs no introduction. The Minack is a living theatre in every sense, its dramatic setting, perched on the rugged cliffs above Porthcurno and the remarkable woman who built it are equally inspiring. Rowena Cade, the Minack’s creator, brought up in a genteel Edwardian family was inspired to transform a Cornish cliff-face into an open-air arena, much of it literally built with her own hands. Minack means rocky place, “meynek” in Cornish. If you had been standing where the stage is now in 1931 you’d have been clinging to sloping cliff, knee deep in gorse, with a ninety-foot drop to the sea behind you! Now the world-famous theatre welcomes over a quarter of a million people each year to enjoy the fabulous views and experience the magic of live performances in this iconic space.
Lesser known is the exotic garden planted around the site, small in scale compared to the other gardens discussed here but packed full of exotic plants that are rarely seen outdoors on mainland Britain. The garden is made up of a series of raised beds, each one named after a Shakesperean character. Winding paths and flights of steps weave through the upper areas of the theatre among a patchwork of exquisite sub-tropical specimens and carpets of pink and purple succulents clothe the rocks in summer. Usually native to the Canary Islands, Maderia and Morocco, Aeoniums thrive at the Minack, the garden being home to one of the largest collections in the country.
Writing in County Life Magazine in 2023, renown gardener Alan Titchmarsh said “Of all the gardens I have visited in my long gardening life, none has left me more impressed with the level of cultivation or elevated by the sheer joy it imparts. The impact is emphasised by the backdrop of the turquoise-blue sea, frequently populated by dolphins, whose leaps into the air seem to celebrate the spectacle.”
The garden holds appeal all year round, but June would be my favourite. The garden is a riot of colour and you are greeted with the abundant, towering and seemingly pre-historic blue spires of Echiums. Whilst dogs are not permitted during live performances, they are welcome on short leads if simply visiting the gardens and theatre. Visiting hours and more details can be found Here.
OK, so a little further afield but these gardens just cannot be ignored. If you are staying in West Cornwall and plan a day-trip to the Scillies or you are holidaying in the Scillies then a visit to Tresco Abbey Gardens is an absolute must. The garden is home to thousands of plants from across the globe, flourishing in the sub-tropical climate of the Isles of Scilly.
Founded by Augustus Smith in 1834 around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey on the Island of Tresco, which is a short boat ride away from the larger island of St Mary’s. There are over 4,000 different specimens made possible by the exceptional hours of sunshine and the warmth of the Gulf Steam. The plants are laid out geographically, with the hotter, drier terraces at the top of the garden housing South African and Australian species, and those lower down providing humidity for those from New Zealand and South America. You will find an abundance of Palms, Bamboo, Cacti, Echium, Agapanthus, Flame-Trees and King Proteas. Even the non-gardeners cannot fail to be impressed by the array of scents, sights and sounds everywhere in the abundant gardens. The gardens are also home to golden pheasants and a small population of red squirrels.
Although Spring is a magical time to visit the Tresco Abbey Gardens, where spring flowers bloom weeks ahead of those on the mainland, you really can visit at any time of the year. In autumn the red, gold and amber of seasonal foliage contrasts with the proteas, aloes and camellias and you will even find more than 300 species of plant in flower as late as the winter solstice.
It is worth visiting the Valhalla Museum during your visit. Here you will find a collection of figureheads and relics from the shipwrecks that have taken place around the islands. Most of the figureheads date from the middle to the end of the 19thcentury, from merchant sailing vessels or early steamships. Dogs are welcome in the gardens on leads; but please note there is no dog-friendly accommodation on Tresco.
This list captures just a glimpse of the magnificent gardens scattered across West Cornwall. These selections, each a personal favourite, offer a diverse experience, offering inspiration and tranquility on days spent strolling with my dogs. While Tresco remains an occasional treat due to its location, the others are cherished regular haunts. Of course, West Cornwall boasts numerous other horticultural wonders, including The Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Trelissick, and Lanhydrock, to name a few. If your visit doesn’t allow for exploring these gardens in person, our independent garden centres offer a delightful alternative. Surround yourself with the incredible variety of plants they showcase – a perfect way to bring a piece of Cornwall’s natural beauty home with you.
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