Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

In its heyday, Heligan Manor, the former seat of the Tremayne family, was one of the glories of Cornwall, England. Almost completely self-sufficient, it had a number of farms, quarries, woods, a brickworks, a flour mill, a sawmill, a brewery, and productive orchards and kitchen gardens. Its land extending over a thousand acres, it was the centre of the community and supported 20 "inside" staff and up to 22 "outside" staff.

The outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to that. Many of the staff died in battle, and, although the Tremayne family returned after the war for a few years, they eventually rented the estate out to friends and moved away. Although basic maintenance was undertaken to the grounds around the house, the gardens were gradually abandoned.

Fast-forward to February 16, 1990. That was the day that Tim Smit and John Willis decided to explore the rumours that, near the village of Mevagissey, Cornwall, there was an overgrown tropical valley; some claimed there were desolated temples and mosaic floors found in the middle of the forests.

Crawling on hands and knees through massive, overgrown laurel hedges and the ruins of glasshouses, they discovered this lost world.

Now, through a painstaking process of restoration, Heligan is returning to its former glory. The Lost Gardens of Heligan extend to some eighty acres, the site of the largest garden restoration in Europe.

One of the reasons Heligan is so valuable is that no major alterations had been carried out over this last century and all the vernacular and garden buildings remained untouched. There are very few examples of gardens which haven't been modernised and Heligan provides a unique snapshot of the Victorian vision and ingenuity which first created this subtropical paradise.

From the official Heligan website:

It's hard to believe that this garden was under several feet of brambles and overgrown laurel when it was discovered in 1990. Now the Italian Garden is restored to its former glory and is one of the most beautiful areas in the Pleasure Grounds.

This is cool. This is where the Tremaynes kept their bees to produce honey for the Big House. Each hollow contained a bee skep, like an upturned basket, in which the bees made their home.


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