Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bat out of Heligan

I sometimes wonder how much more exciting the world would be if there was a bit more imagination in our everyday. 

Somebody, somewhere had a moment of absolute genius in naming the gardens I visited this weekend - The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Personally I love a bit of creativity in a name. Take band names for example. I've always admired hard rock band '...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, for the audacity to suggest that you only know half their name. One Direction? Not so clever now.

Equally, shop names. I was nearly thrilled by a what I thought was a 1940's/50's fashion shop in the beautiful if slightly pretentious seaside village of Fowey. 

A taste of Fowey

Yes, that's right, they've tried to hide a warship here
The shop was, I thought, called 'Everyone needs a little glamour in their life'. I was thrilled not because I'm after an outfit to show off my legs but because the name stood out a mile from your average high street name. It's actually the tag line for a boutique hotel and shop called Upton House, but for at least for a moment I thought it was inspiring.

Which takes me to why the name 'The Lost Gardens of Heligan' is so inspired. In reality it's the garden jewel in Cornwall's apparently glittering collection of both wild and trimmed outdoor worlds. The story goes that this botanical archaeologists dream, the grounds of the Tremayne family estate, lay untouched for 75 years after the first world war. In 1990 Tim Smith and John Willis, Tremayne descendants, discovered the gardens and set about a sympathetic restoration.

Yet the name takes this raw story and gives it the Hollywood treatment, as if you're on an adventure to uncover lost garden civilisations - Indiana Jones with a pair of shears.
An amazing amount of discovery and restoration has gone into the surprisingly vast gardens, that stretch for some 300 acres. Yet this is also a living project, with formal and vegetable gardens, livestock being raised to supply the cafe, and no doubt much more planned.

Highlights included the jungle, the core of restoration. I also adored the new orchard and a hugely romantic apple tree archway. 

The jungle is worth the visit alone, with boardwalks past giant rubarb, a series of lakes guarded by bamboo and banana plants, and a striking New Zealand Yew. From the view at the top to the detail of every plant there was enough to keep me jumping from botanist to explorer and back again for hours.

The route implores you to look up, down, at the whole picture and at every brushstroke. From the bottom, looking up I discovered my particular favourite - a Broccoli tree (at least, that's my new common name for it).

But above all else and despite my trip into the jungle, this, I decided that this was no place for latin names and the ethics of victorian international plant collecting, but instead more of a folk affair.

I was brought up on a diet of Enid Blyton, The Secret Garden and all manner of storytelling set in the grounds of old English manor houses and their type. At a young age your imagination takes over and never really leaves you. 

The Lost Gardens, for me, simply had to be a place where I could finally prove that there is more to the world than the mundane and predictable, tax dodging multi-nationals and bickering politicians.

And as if by magic, I found a sleeping giant

Look carefully and you'll see her

With a bit of imagination (and a lot of hard work), gardens can be much more than the sum of their plants. They can transport you out of the 24 hour news cycle into wherever you wish to be, whether handsome explorer or wistful folkie.

So as you mull that over, hit 'play' below, close your eyes, choose your garden and take in the utterly enchanting sound of Bat for Lashes.

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The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

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I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.