Cornish cream: exploring the garden delights of Cornwall in 2021

Few, if any, counties can match Cornwall’s gardening heritage. Almost surrounded by sea warmed by the passing Gulf Stream with its mild coastal climate Cornwall is home to some of the nation’s most spectacular gardens. Many of the county’s great gardens such as Caerhays Castle date back to the 19th century and were built on the fruits of Victorian plant hunting expeditions. But there is great variety here too – the true signature of National Garden Scheme gardens. From cliff-side gardens to landscaped parkland and sub-tropical oases there is something of interest to everyone.

George Plumptre, Chief Executive of the National Garden Scheme, dips into some of the horticultural delights on offer this year.

In 2021, 37 Cornish gardens plan to open for the National Garden Scheme, among them the colourful, sub-tropical gardens at St Michael’s Mount. Basking in the mild seaside climate the terraced beds cling to the granite cliffs and tier steeply to the ocean’s edge, boasting tender exotics from places such as Mexico, the Canary Islands and South Africa.  The gardens open for the National Garden Scheme on June 12th.


On a smaller scale and as far from the coast as you can possibly be in Cornwall is Anvil Cottage in South Hill. The owners took the opportunity during the 2020 lockdown to revamp some of the garden and regular visitors will spot that some overgrown areas have been thinned, but it remains a plantsman’s garden. Winding paths lead through a series of themed rooms with familiar, rare and unusual plants while steps lead up to a raised viewpoint looking towards Caradon Hill and Bodmin Moor, before opening into a formal rose garden. This delightful garden plans to open on May 23rd.

For those with a keen eye for plants and looking for garden inspiration Pinsla Garden, Bodmin offers a warm welcome. A hidden garden full of secret paths, unusual plants and a relaxed atmosphere, visitors can enjoy the pretty cottage garden, the shaded areas, and the open meadow. There’s a romantic 1½-acre artist’s garden nestled in wild woodland which is peaceful and secluded, and easy to walk around and can even be enjoyed by your four-legged friends (on a lead).


Because of its sheltered location a wide range of plants thrive at Pinsla. On the edges of the woodland Japanese maples show off their delicate, richly coloured leaves. Chusan palms, black bamboo and many types of ferns add to the jungle feel; shade-loving perennials and ground cover carpet the ground. Enjoy the intricately patterned paths and moss-covered granite boulders as you leave the shade and wander towards the sunny flower beds that surround an idyllic 18th Century cottage. Here a succession of colourful annuals, perennials, bulbs and grasses provide a shimmering display from spring to autumn. Then, for a change of scenery, walk towards the mature beech trees that preside over the wild meadow planting in the magical stone circle.

Like many gardens within the National Garden Scheme, Pinsla is also haven for wildlife: birds, bees and butterflies feast on the naturalistic planting and ponds are home to newts, frogs, toads and dragonflies. Imaginative garden art and statues, decorative fences, pergolas and pots – many made of recycled and natural materials – add to the great charm of this garden. There are lots of creative ideas that you can take home. This inspiring garden opens on a number of days from May 4th to September 1st.


Also at the top of my garden visiting list is the beautiful Chygurno , a stunning three-acre cliffside garden overlooking Lamorna Cove. Planting of the garden started in 1998 and is dominated by southern hemisphere shrubs and exotics with hydrangeas, camellias and rhododendrons in a cool woodland area with tree ferns set against large granite outcrops. The spectacular position and steepness of the garden does mean that it is largely terraced but there are plenty of benches on which to rest while you soak in the fecundity of this glorious garden and its spectacular sea views. The garden has open days in April and July.

Gardens of a more modest scale and location are no less inspiring and 9 Higman Close in Liskeard, which opens in conjunction with Dove Cottage, provides the chance to visit two very different enclosed gardens. Between them, the three owners have over a hundred years of professional horticultural experience which is richly reflected in their gardens. 9 Higman Close is a restless, constantly changing, unapologetically busy garden, full of good plants but also colour, scent and surprises and the owner’s glasshouse is overflowing with cacti and succulents, some over 35 years old. Dove Cottage was replanted from scratch in 2017 showing what can be achieved in just four years. There are separate areas with different types of planting, an emphasis on colour along with a tropical deck, sunroom and lush foliage area.

An invitation to Caerhays Castle

Of all the historic Cornish gardens, Caerhays Castle is the most iconic. The unforgettably picturesque castle designed in 1810 by John Nash sits perched on a wooded hillside looking out over a sheltered cove to the sea. From the late-19th century successive generations of the Williams family, starting with the famous plantsman, J.C. Williams who bred the first williamsii camellia, have transformed the castle’s surroundings into one of the most spectacular woodland gardens in the country, famous for its tree magnolias and other choice plants, many grown from seed collected on plant-hunting expeditions that were sponsored by J.C. Williams.

On Tuesday 8th June the National Garden Scheme is offering an exclusive private event, including morning refreshments and buffet lunch, a lecture and a private tour of the garden led by Caerhays’ owner, Charles Williams. For full details click here

*All garden openings are subject to the coronavirus restrictions in place at the time and in most instances pre-booking of timed entry slots will be available. Visitors are advised to check the details of the gardens they want to visit and to book online on the National Garden Scheme website before travelling www.ngs.org.uk 

Lead image of Pinsla Garden copyright Carole Drake

For more Cornish gardens click here


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