Travel Notebook

Great Gardens of Cornwall

A respite in Cornwall is hardly complete without leisurely afternoons spent strolling through verdant, colorful gardens, each as well tended as the next and blooming with kaleidoscopic shades and the most precious scents. I always start my garden tour with a stay at The Nare, the area’s favorite luxury hotel, with its outstanding seafood-centric dining, to-die-for sea views and abundantly serene ambiance.

On my last visit, the chef happily packed a gourmet picnic lunch for my husband and me to enjoy later on – in the past, we have also stopped into one of the fun local pubs for a Cornish pasty lunch on the go.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

The Nare’s courtesy car whisked us first to The Lost Gardens of Heligan, my favorite for their secret garden appeal. They were “lost” after decades of disused and neglect, not to mention a particularly brutal hurricane in 1990. The new owners were intrigued to find a tiny buried room in a far corner of the walled gardens and traced its history back to 1914. With this discovery as their inspiration, they reinvigorated the gardens and are now able to share with the public the history of the Tremayne family, who oversaw the Heligan estate for more than 400 years. Before World War I, when so many departed to join the forces, the gardens grew out of control. A huge productive garden supplies the Heligan Kitchen – stop for a snack to taste the fresh produce for yourself. In the Pleasure Ground, The Northern Summerhouse is a wonderful spot to catch the morning sun and boasts expansive views across St. Austell Bay.

From Heligan, we moved on to the Tregothnan Gardens, Britain’s largest private botanical garden. There’s a very exclusive feel here – visiting is my appointment only, and the staff at The Nare are happy to arrange this for you, as well as a personal tour with the Head Gardener. It was a treat to see the country’s oldest camellias, as well as the world’s only surviving traveling greenhouse – called a Wardian Case. Take time for tea – this is Britain’s only tea plantation – in the summerhouse.

Caerhays Gardens

Charles Williams is the charming owner of the 140-acre Caerhays Gardens and is happy to meet with guests – the Nare arranged for a personal tour for us and it was here that I first fell in love with Cornwall as I took in the spectacular pink and white blooming magnolias and incredible light that has wooed countless artists. In fact, the gardens are home to a Plant Heritage National Collection of Magnolias, with more than 600 species and hybrids from around the world. Be sure to tour the castle, designed by Regency architect John Nash approximately 200 years ago.

Our afternoon culminated with glittering sea views over Falmouth Bay from the stunning Lamorran Gardens, and a stop at Trewithen Gardens, known for its magnolias and camellias. At Lamorran, jungle-like canopies invited us to get lost on purpose as we strolled through this Mediterranean-style garden. Acacias, palms and exotic species make for a lovely tropical ambience. Trewithen is a historic private estate and offers unique raised viewing platforms from which we could get up close to the blooms and see far out over the floral canopy – this is a unique view one wouldn’t normally get at a garden and made for some pretty photographs. The woodland walks, 18th-century estate house and 24 Champion Trees make this a must for your Cornwall garden tour.

Another interesting stop, at the other end of the spectrum, is The Eden Project, nestled in a huge crater in Cornwall. Huge biomes house the largest rain forest in captivity and along with it stunning plants, contemporary gardens and exhibitions that explain the project’s history and mission. If you’re lucky enough to visit in the summer, you may even catch a concert on the grounds.