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Heligan and other lost gardens


“The Lost Gardens of Heligan” is rather a page turner – unusual for a book essentially about a garden but all the better for it.

It has everything – aristocrats who used the garden to broadcast their status in the world – gardeners who downed tools mid-way through the day to go off to the war never to return – hidden treasures at peril from the Cornish storms – and plenty of drama as a modern day team begin to reconstruct and interpret the garden.
What I like best about it though is that their problems are my problems writ large.

I was thinking about this whilst working on the slope in my mum’s back garden on Monday. I enjoy looking at gardens, but I far prefer getting a bit intimate, so I was pulling out the Violets, Ivy and Wood Avens that had decided to muscle into the flower beds.

As I weeded I found all types of other forgotten plants, cowering beneath the bullies. Some, such as the Hemerocallis, were obviously rather stunned by the experience. Others, like my mother’s Bishop of Llandaff Dahlia tubers may have survived the winter precisely because of the micro-climate that the weeds created. Sadly I found any number of stumps that look like they used to be something that came in a pot.

Even a bit of structure began to emerge as I pulled out a number of rather nice rockery stones that I cannot remember seeing before.

Imagine then being one of the first explorers of the lost gardens of Heligan, coming across massive rhododendrons, valleys and whole lakes that had been hidden from view, smothered in brambles and just plain buried in silt. Just reading the book I am constantly overawed by the scale of the problems that they face and exhilarated at the rewards they get for doing so.

I like the idea that every garden has history. I wrote earlier this spring about the stone-age tools we have found and which to my shame I have done nothing about. But I am also excited to find more prosaic objects – a young girl’s shoe, abandoned plant supports, old cyclamen tubers beneath the turf. Each of them links us back to the family who bought the house in 1970 and set about turning a building site into a garden.

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Oh yes I well remember finding many a treasure when we first moved in here, nothing of value though.
We visited Heligan when they first opened it, I was overwhelmed wandering around and seeing what they had uncovered, I can picture it in my mind still, I have the book and still have my video explaining it all, also its been on the tv a few times over the years, I`d recommend the book to anyone interested in gardens of the past.
You`ve brought back some very happy memories Sarah...

22 Apr, 2011


brilliant lucky enough to live in a farmhouse that was built in 1756 and the deeds contain the details where the oak beam over the ingle nook came from, which ship, in a spanish fishing fleet..

the garden must have been practical in them days..i would love to see how it might have been..the piece which is now a lawn would have no doubt have been a place for animals..but what did they grow..when did the house start growing for fancy, aesthetics??

i love this about any garden and your blog as given me another to see..thank you for sharing

22 Apr, 2011


I really enjoyed reading your blog, can really paint a picture with your writing style :)

It seems you had a great time working in your mom's garden and making the discoveries of plants and all things wonderful.

I will have to find out more about is not a familiar name to me. I'll start with good old Googlesearch!

23 Apr, 2011


As I came rather late to 'proper' gardening (and finally dumped my ex who liked to plant daffodills in lines like soldiers!) I always held a hope that one day I would move and have a new garden with surprises emerging through the seasons. Then, after meeting my soul mate and buying a house together .... the previous owners had nothing in it but grass and a few leylandii! Foiled! Once again we moved - to Spain - and what did we get as a 'garden?' The edge of a rocky mountain that had been a corral for animals for the previous 50 years! I envy you your 'finds' in your mum's garden - and I'll put 'The Lost Gardens of Heligan' on my Christmas list! :o)

23 Apr, 2011


It must be lovely to live in a place where you can dig up history ... nice blog... well done :o)

23 Apr, 2011


@Nariz I dont think its possible to have everything - but my word your area comes close - its absolutely breath-taking. I do hope though that you didnt dump your ex just because he planted daffs in straight lines - they look lovely like that!

When we were children we lived on a farm in Sturry which, like Skipscanda1 dated back and then some. We had a lovely spot in the back garden that had previously been the tip. Had this been a contemporary tip it would have been a question of coca-cola cans and plastic but what we found was endless quantities of Victorian china chips - wonderful!

23 Apr, 2011


I haven't found anything of value, but lots of old wire plant supports, an old teddy bear (which I thought was something dead when I unearthed it, leading to much freaking-out on my part), handmade nails and bits of very old tools, broken bits of hundred year old bottles, etc. I know some people in the area have found Native American artifacts, arrowheads and stuff like that, but I don't know if I'd necessarily recognize such items if I saw them. I read yesterday about the Austrian man who dug up medieval jewelry in his that's a find!

24 Apr, 2011


No Sarah, planting daffs in a straight line was only the tip of a very big iceberg! ;o) Having complained of not finding plant surprises - we did find five very small glass bottles when we took the old garden wall down. I think they must have been animal medicine bottles????? We also kept smelling onions while removing the wall rock by rock and eventually found an ancient piece of chorizo! While digging out one of the veg beds Partner kept finding his way down blocked by - what he thought - a slab of rock. Turned out to be the floor of the original dwelling on this spot. Unfortunately, due to very inefficient or non-existent Spanish records, no further info is available! So I suppose we have had SOME finds, but I still remember being looked at most weirdly by some non-gardening in-laws when they moved house by saying enthusiastically "Oh, won't it be great in Spring? You never know what's going to come up!"

24 Apr, 2011

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