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Celebrating Cornwall’s gardens

With the mildest climate in the UK, public gardens in Cornwall are home to some of the rarest and most spectacular plants in the British Isles. From the sub-tropical gardens of Trebah and Glendurgan on the banks of the Helford to the magical labyrinth of Heligan and the formal splendour of Trelissick, green-fingered visitors will be in heaven in the Duchy.

Trebah Gardens

With winding paths through rambling gardens that reach down to a pretty beach, Trebah Gardens has trails to follow, a water garden and a pond that is home to some of the biggest Koi Carp you’ve ever seen. The award-winning Trebah Restaurant serves up ethical, sustainably-sourced food — and you’ll find Roskilly’s ice cream at the Boathouse Beach Cafe on the pebbles. Watch cormorants dive in the lake or take a trip through the Gunnera passage — a natural tunnel under a roof of two-metre-wide leaves. Discover a place where D-Day tanks rolled onto ships on the beach below, the paving of which you can still see today.

Caerhays Castle Gardens

Open from mid-February to early June and covering over 120 acres, the beautiful gardens surrounding Caerhays Castle are home to a huge number of plants from around the world, with over 600 varieties of magnolia alone. The collection of camellias, now one of the largest in the world, was started in the early 20th century and is a particular highlight, and there are woodland walks, a beautiful lake and formal gardens which ramble down to the sheltered beach. Check out the events and activities held throughout the season, including guided tours, plant sales and workshops.

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens

Just outside Penzance in south Cornwall, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens is a very special place, with sculpture gardens, gallery, restaurant and shop. The gallery showcases the work of local and international artists, and a stroll through the sub-tropical gardens will reveal exotic plants and impressive installations dotted about the grounds, such as the elliptical domed ‘Skyspace’ chamber. The gardens and gallery open from mid-February until late summer, and the restaurant is open all year round.

Glendurgan Garden

Created as a private garden for the Fox family, Glendurgan Garden was opened to the public in the 1960s after it was donated to the National Trust. On a sloping site on the banks of the Helford River, the garden’s winding paths, exotic plantings and beautiful views make it a popular place for visitors. Children (and adults!) will love the 200-year-old maze, created from over 1,200 laurel bushes, as well as the valley garden, a bamboo grove and a wildflower meadow. Find a brilliant second-hand bookshop and plants for sale at the entrance and a cafe at the top of the garden serving cream teas and light lunches. 

Hepworth Sculpture Garden

Perhaps the smallest of the gardens on this list, these gardens and museum are actually in Hepworth’s old studio — Trewyn Studio. Her aesthetic sculptures are offset by flowering cherry blossom and rhododendron, and as the seasons change so does the tone of her artwork. It won’t take long to look around, but being in the heart of St Ives there’s plenty to do locally to make a full day of your visit. Discover how the Cornish landscape influenced Hepworth in the museum, and if you still haven’t had your fill of art then head across town to The Tate St Ives, overlooking Porthminster beach.

Trelissick

The beautiful National Trust house and gardens at Trelissick on the upper reaches of the Fal Estuary towards Truro is home to collections of exotic plants and rhododendrons, all set within extensive parkland which extends down to the water, plus a private beach, a riverside fort, orchards and secluded oak woodlands that line the water’s edge — there’s a network of footpaths to amble along, open to non-members. The brilliant cafe housed in the old stables sells delicious homemade food, and don’t miss the second-hand bookshop next door and the art gallery, which exhibits work by local artists.

The Eden Project

Few could disagree that the Eden Project is Cornwall’s best-loved attraction. The former clay mine has been transformed into a multi award-winning attraction, housing the world’s largest indoor rainforest with thousands of plants in eight interlinked giant greenhouses, or ‘biomes’. Children will love the rainforest canopy walkway, rope bridge and waterfall, and the fragrant and colourful Mediterranean biome with ancient olive trees, vines and herbs. Outside there’s thirty acres to explore, sculpture, art and architecture, and an educational centre hosting demonstrations, workshops and courses on sustainability.

Tanglewood Garden

Nestled inland near the fishing village of Mousehole, the wild, natural garden of Tanglewood still feels like one of south Cornwall’s best-kept secrets — no cafe, no facilities (although there is a compost loo and a cake hut onsite), just a whole lot of nature and wildlife running amok around the nine-acre site. Open between Easter and the end of October, the garden features four ponds and several quirky installations; families will love the giant chess set, the fairy doors set into the trees and its relaxed setting — bring a picnic, the dog and spend a day in this ethereal wonderland.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

In the same vein as the Eden Project, this list of our favourite gardens in Cornwall wouldn’t be complete without featuring the award-winning Lost Gardens of Heligan. Hidden under a blanket of brambles following the outbreak of WWI, the gardens were rediscovered in 1990; the restoration of Heligan’s 200-acre site has now become the largest garden project of its kind in Europe. There’s masses to see — you’ll need most of the day to explore the various gardens. There’s the jungle with its boardwalks and rope bridge, the productive kitchen gardens (which supply the brilliant cafe) and stunning flower gardens. The Italian garden has a distinctly Mediterranean feel, whilst the 200-year old Pleasure Grounds have beautiful pathways winding through historic plants.