Cornwall’s mild climate and beautiful landscape makes the county a haven for horticultural enthusiasts. From sub-tropical valleys packed with exotic species, to the formal gardens of stately homes, from bucolic wildflower meadows to productive kitchen gardens, there are so many botanical highlights to explore that it’s hard to know where to start.
So, here’s our condensed guide to the ones not to miss. We’ve travelled the country from one end to the other and chosen our favourites; let us know if you agree!
Tresco Abbey Gardens – Isles Of Scilly
Well worth the plane or boat ride (there are regular connections from St Mary’s onwards to Tresco), these gardens are some of the most remarkable in the British Isles. Described as “Kew without the glass,” the gardens were originally constructed amongst the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey and are structured around a series of walled enclosures and terraces carved from the rocky, south-facing slopes. The climate is so mild that plants from Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa flourish here, and spring generally arrives several weeks ahead of the Cornish mainland.
Visit Tresco Abbey Gardens for full details.
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens – Penzance
Combining inspired planting with sculptural installations by internationally-acclaimed artists such as James Turrell, Richard Long and David Nash, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens on the edge of Penzance is an unmissable sensory experience. The shady pools, hidden valleys, arid slopes and breathtaking views are worth taking all day to explore, perhaps returning for lunch to the excellent cafe at the entrance of the gardens. Don’t miss Turrell’s Skyspace, a remarkable elliptical domed chamber designed as a space from which to view the sky, and the Chelsea Garden, which was designed by Darren Hawkes and won a Gold Medal at the RHS show in 2015.
Visit Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens for full details.
St Michael’s Mount – Marazion
St Michael’s Mount is an iconic image of Cornwall, but the island itself is also a very special habitat. The granite “acts as a gigantic radiator – absorbing heat by day and releasing it at night” making it a great spot for things like agave, aloes and ginger lilies. Many of the plants here come from places like Mexico and South Africa. You’ll have to be agile to see it all though – the pathways and steps linking the numerous terraces are steep – but the views from spots such as Seagull Seat are worth it!
Visit St Michael’s Mountfor full details.
Trebah Garden – Mawnan Smith, Nr Falmouth
Journey through a lush, sub-tropical valley at Trebah, as you make your way down to an idyllic cove on the Helford River. Tunnel through gigantic gunnera, zigzag past ancient tree ferns, marvel at flowering magnolia and discover cascading pools, picture-perfect bridges and ponds packed with huge Koi Carp. Follow the gently flowing water to where it joins the Helford River, and enjoy an ice cream on the beach as yachts and fishing boats pass by. Trebah is great for kids (there are two play areas) and the cafe and plant shop are also excellent.
Visit Trebah Garden for full details.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan – St Austell
The legend of these gardens is romantic and poignant. They were part of a rambling country house estate of over 1,000 acres but fell into disuse and disrepair after WW1, when many of the workers never returned from the trenches. The gardens were rediscovered many decades later by Tim Smit (who later became the driving-force behind the Eden Project – see below) and slowly reclaimed, eventually becoming the rich natural resource they are today. Woodlands, kitchen gardens, sub-tropical jungles and formal gardens provide hour after hour of delightful discovery.
Visit The Lost Gardens Of Heligan for full details.
The Eden Project – St Austell
No list of Cornish gardens would be complete without The Eden Project – a remarkable feat of imagination, construction and sustainable vision which came to life in a disused china clay pit thanks to the determination of its Founder, Sir Tim Smit. Conceived as a showcase for the world’s most important plants, Eden has evolved into an educational and cultural powerhouse; a hub for a greener future. The list of things to see and do here is endless, but the Rainforest and Mediterranean Biomes are still the undoubted highlights.
Visit The Eden Project for full details.
Lanhydrock – Bodmin
This National Trust property near Bodmin has extensive formal gardens (including a parterre, rose beds, box hedges, herbaceous borders and the impressive gatehouse) but it’s the ancient woodlands and tranquil riverside paths which draw local families back time and time again. Take a picnic, hire a bike, sign up to a park run or join a guided tour – there are numerous ways to explore this huge estate. History buffs will love discovering how the house and gardens have changed over time, and learning of the many tragedies and triumphs which make up the story of Lanhydrock!
Visit Lanhydrock for full details.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and if you want to read more, do check out our other article categories.