Garden Portrait: The Lost Gardens of Heligan Part I

One of the gardens in Cornwall that I have wanted to visit for some years is The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Home to the Tremayne family for over 400  years between 1770 and 1914 four generations created a thriving, almost self-sufficient community. After the Great War the estate fell into disrepair and decades of neglect together with the storm of 1990 should have seen the end. The derelict gardens were discovered by Tim Smit and John Willis (Tremayne descendant) in 1990 and in a tiny room in one of the walled gardens the reason for it demise was found. A motto etched into the limestone walls in barely legible pencil still reads “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber” with the names of those who worked there signed under the date – August 1914.

Finally, this year, 2014 the centenary of World War 1, I managed to get there. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This first post is of the Pleasure Grounds and Northern Gardens as I have far too many photos to put everything in one post.

Spring Notes:
Camelias, rhododendrons & magnolias. Frogs and toads mating, birds nesting. Daffodils, wallflowers & ranunculus. Peach, apple, pear & quince blossom. Rhubarb, asparagus & wild garlic. New-born Dexter calves.

Source of information: The Lost Gardens of Heligan website and leaflets.

The first thing to catch my eye were the pots of tulips at the garden entrance. There is a tearoom, a shop and garden centre as well as a farm shop which you can visit for free.

(please click on an image to scroll through a gallery)

Once through the ticket office you enter into Flora’s Green where paths wind through and around the Pleasure Grounds where intricate gardens were inspired by the Tremaynes’ passion for travel and the garden trends of the Victorian age. It is home to the National Collection of Camellias and Rhododendrons introduced to Heligan pre-1920.


Beacon path leads you past a pretty dovecote to the Northern Summerhouse with a view to the sea (and yes that is a crow sneaking into the doves’ home).

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 A pretty cobblestone walled garden awaits, overhung with a delicate pink rhododendron with more pots of tulips and narcissus and a tranquil pond with a pretty fountain.

Continue on the Eastern Ride through ‘New Zealand’, past the Crystal Grotto and the Wishing Well to the Well Area.



Where you find another lovely dovecote. And the entrance into the walled flower garden with its Peach House, Vinery and Citrus House and beds of jewel-like ranunculus.

Go through the centre of the Flower Garden and enter the Sundial Garden which backs onto the private Heligan House.


Outside the garden is a huge Euphorbia mellifera (honey spurge) with small, honey-scented, bronze-tinted flowers.


From here enter the Melon Yard from where you can access the delightful small Italian Garden and the very large walled Northern Gardens which are restored working gardens growing over 200 varieties of mainly heritage fruit and vegetables.

Leaving the Italian Garden behind head back towards the Garden exit along the Western Ride or via the Ravine, which is rather more uneven.

Now you could leave the gardens as we have arrived back at the ticket office, but if you want to continue to explore these special gardens then you still have Heligan Wild, woodlands, lost parkland, rich pastures with herds of Dexter cattle and magical mud sculptures in the Woodland Walk. In the Lost Valley you can look for bird-life from the Shepherd’s Hut or Wildlife Centre. And there is the Sub-tropical Jungle, a steep-sided valley garden with a unique micro-climate.

We will explore further on the next walk if you want to join me. And if you enjoy walking, whether in a garden or alongside a river, or by the coast then join Jo’s Monday Walks where you are in for further treats, or where you can share your walk with us.

38 thoughts on “Garden Portrait: The Lost Gardens of Heligan Part I

    • It’s pretty special Aletta. Lots to see there! Funnily enough we got lost trying to find it, ended up on the narrowest of narrow roads in the middle of the countryside. Phew!

  1. Thanks for the tour, Jude….I have been meaning to visit for years, but it’s still on the ‘oh, one day!’ list… 🙂

    • Those tulips were pretty spectacular! Because it was a warm day they were fully open. It was worth visiting the garden just to see those pots of tulips, and we hadn’t even entered the gardens then!

  2. Fabulous, Jude! I’ve watched the TV documentaries on this place and it certainly lives up to expectations from your photos. I especially like that first shot of the white tulips. Looking forward to more. 🙂

    • We actually got lost on the way to the gardens! We were on a narrow road in the middle of the countryside and I said to the OH, I hope this road doesn’t get any narrower, and it did! I was practically scraping both hedgerows! But worth it when we got there 😉

    • Thanks Jo! I thought that this particular walk belonged on the flower blog, though it probably won’t attract as much traffic as the Travel one. And actually the photos work better on this theme, especially in a gallery.

  3. Great tour! I remember watching a TV program about the lost gardens of Heligan and how they were being uncovered / rediscovered and brought back to life, and was determined to visit in person. Your photos bring it back. 🙂 I have a photo from the Italian Garden of a metal bench with a little saying in Italian on a plaque on the back, something like (in English) “love moves the moon and also the stars”. I was going to include it in your bench challenge, but the photo is a tight crop just on the plaque — not much bench action!

    • I shall look out for that on my next visit! If this move takes of then I will buy an annual pass to the gardens and visit as often as possible, though it will still be an hour’s drive. Worth it though.

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