03 February, 2014

Lost Gardens of Heligan

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

Have you heard of the Lost Gardens of Heligan? It is the Best Heritage site on the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards in 2013-2014.

come with us to wander in the
Lost Gardens of Heligan

Tim Smit discovered and restored Heligan, before he created the Eden Project (Cornwall, the Rain Forest Biome and the Mediterranean Biome). The gardens were famous in Victorian times. Imagine it, TWENTY-TWO gardeners! When they went away to fight in the First World War, the gardens of Heligan were lost. With my Irish grandfather – there is a corner of a foreign field that is forever, in his case, Anglo-Irish.

We took the train from London (wildly expensive, but we preferred that to hiring a car). Caught a glimpse of the White Horse of Wiltshire - because another train passenger mentioned it. We stayed in a B & B in St. Austell (my mama taught us to say Osell). Beautiful sunny July day, not the winter blizzard we got the day before when we could lurk in the grateful shelter of the biomes at Eden. The bus wound its gentle and leisurely way across the countryside ... to Heligan. We stopped at Mevagissey on the return journey. My mother grew up in Perranporth, and for me it was like stepping into the stories I was raised on.

Mevagissey harbour on a peaceful July day in 2009

If you haven’t heard of Heligan, you may well have seen the Mud Maid and Giant's Head sculptures, but, like me, not known where to find them. We walked first through the woods so I could see the sculptures (designed by Sue Hill and Pete Hill), which is why I came. Her dress is ivy, and their hair is Montbretia.

Giant's Head at Heligan

Mud Maid at Heligan

Then we walked around the ponds, through the jungle, which is why the Ungardener came.

The Jungle at Heligan

The largest vegetable garden I have ever imagined, with an avenue of pairs of apple trees arching over. A wall dedicated to beehives, which were woven like baskets, in the beehive shape which you can see in Winnie the Pooh books.

Heligan beehives

An Italian garden to catch the sun, for the last member of the Tremayne family to live there (though he spent most of his life, and died in his beloved Italian home). The little statue in the pond is a replacement, but comes from the same factory in Italy, perhaps even from the same mould as the original. And a New Zealand link to remind me of my father – with carved tree ferns, sent with the Maori blessing “May the breath of life run through this garden”. And through yours, and mine.

Cherub in the Italian Garden at Heligan

Gardening on a grand scale. A hedge with a view. Take a deep bow, framed - the curtains open to the valley and the sea.

Heligan's hedge with a view

The view over Heligan's bowed hedge

Storing up memories of my mother's Cornish childhood as we head for the bus back to St Austell.

A last glimpse of the sea from Heligan

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer 
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red. 
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  1. How wonderful! I have always wanted to go there.

    1. a garden club friend said - if you're going to Eden, go to Heligan as well. Take the bus and see the Mud Maid.

  2. I guess the jungle at Heligan really does hit the spot, no large beasts to look out for though. Now that I am living closer to these special places I must make more of an effort.

  3. The Mud maid alone was worth the trip, but carrying memories of family stories is the frosting on the cake.

  4. Perfectly lovely. Splendid for you to have the memories of it told now in front of you!
    How we relish the garden, the land, the hills and dales, the planet we're on. Thank you for this introduction to something I had not known about.

  5. Gorgeous, gorgeous. I do remember seeing pictures of the Mud Maid--so unique! The cherub fountain is sweet. How fun to take such a trip, connect with one's heritage, and see such beauty!

  6. It is years and years since I went to Heligan; a very special place. In spring the rhododendrons are amazing - as large as trees (and I don't even like rhododendrons. Thanks for the pleasant memories.

  7. love your cossmopolitan heritage traced through recent posts. The dip in the hedge is a nice way of keeping continuity interrupted by a different view
    p.s. this an area of Cornwall from youthful holiday memories - Menabilly, nr Mevagissey where Du Maurier wrote

    1. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again - Du Maurier's Rebecca. And Derek Tangye's books about growing daffodils and cats in Cornwall.

  8. Now, if I had a view like that...I would also make a bow in my hedge.

  9. Oh how I wish I was there Diana. Such a gorgeous place to visit. Thanks for my escape from the winter this morning. :)

  10. Visiting places like this is huge inspiration for one's own garden

  11. Oh Diana I must see heligan in person...it is beyond description.

  12. I would love to get back to Cornwall some day, and this looks like another place to add to my "must visit" list. -Jean