Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Cornwall has Britain’s most temperate climate, leading to some amazing Cornish gardens. Plants that wouldn’t survive their first frost in other parts of the country absolutely thrive here, allowing our gardeners to be creative and often architectural with their planting. You can visit any number of fantastic gardens near St Ives – and these are our favourites.
“Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic”, wrote sculptor Barbara Hepworth about her now-iconic St Ives base. There’s still this sense of discovery when you first encounter the Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Gardens, hidden in the middle of St Ives’ the busy little streets.
Hepworth and her family moved here in 1939, when she found her magical new space. At Trewyn, she could work and display in the open air, which enabled her to start creating on a larger scale. These days visitors can explore her gardens, and many of the bronze sculptures are still in situ where the famous sculptor placed them.
If you enjoyed this very Cornish combination of gardens and art, cross over the peninsula to Penzance, home to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens. The sheltered valley setting provides the perfect environment for dramatic sub-tropical planting; and the foliage creates a beautiful backdrop for a variety of contemporary art.
Children also enjoy exploring the 22 acres of outdoors art gallery, and it’s free for under 11s. The café, the Tremenheere Kitchen, is excellent, and there’s a nursery shop which sells amazing plants from Surreal Succulents.
While you’re in Penzance, visit the National Trust garden at Trengwainton. Like Tremenheere, the garden is in a sheltered location and has a wonderful collection of plants. A real highlight of Trengwainton is the walled kitchen garden, which is beautifully tended, and the orchard. A winding path through the trees opens out into a blinkingly-bright large open space with glorious views across Mounts Bay – just beware of the ha-ha…
The café is lovely, housed in its own old walled garden, and as well as the usual National Trust shop, there’s also a second-hand bookshop in the former head gardener’s cottage. Check the website before you go for a range of tours, talks, and family fun events.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan is a fascinating mixture of kitchen and flower gardens, a subtropical jungle, and valleys teeming with wildlife.
The gardens were originally part of the Tremayne family’s estate. Prior to the First World War, the gardens were tended by a team of 22; only 6 of the gardeners survived the war. The house was no longer lived in by the family, and was converted into flats in the 1970s. Separated from the house, nature took over the once carefully-managed grounds.
In 1990, John Willis inherited the estate. He hacked through the thorns and weeds and was moved by the romance of what he found; glimpses of lost lives caught in a time capsule of overgrown greenhouses and outbuildings. John Willis restored his gardens, and the result is this beautiful botanical garden.
There’s a lot to see here, so allow most of a day – especially if you want to call in to the delicious Lobbs Farm Shop on your way home.
The Eden Project hardly needs any introduction. One of Cornwall’s best-known attractions, Eden just gets it right. Incredible planting, stunning architecture, an excellent events programme, gorgeous food, enough loos for even the busiest days…
Wander about happily soaking up information about planting and conservation, or lure your teenagers there with the promise of a trip down the zip wire. It’s always worth seeing what’s on when you’re down here, especially as Eden is now attracting some of music’s big names for its Sessions programme. There’s a lot more to Cornish gardens than plants.
Don’t put your National Trust card away yet, as Glendurgan Garden on the Helford River is definitely worth the extra drive. A walk down through the exotic gardens leads to the tiny hamlet of Durgan on the river. Pick up the coast path from here and head west to Helford Passage, where you can catch a ferry (April to October) or a quick stop at the Ferryboat Inn. Just save some energy for Glendurgan’s famous maze.
Trebah Garden (not National Trust owned) is Glendurgan’s near neighbour, and again has a magnificent sub-tropical garden leading down to the Helford. A brilliant place to visit with kids, Trebah also has fabulous café (are you starting to sense a theme here…?).