Trip the plant fantastic down at Trebah Garden in the southwest, with scenes of riotous colour and masses of champion specimens PHOTOGRAPHS CLIVE NICHOLS | WORDS KATHERINE LAMBERT
the english garden April 2014
gardens: cornwall The water garden at Trebah flows down the valley, bursting with multicoloured candelabra primulas.
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he glory of Trebah below the house and the is the way that 26 sloping lawn, then splits plant-lavish acres into four long and roughly have been slotted parallel trails, following flawlessly into the lines of the valley an exacting landscape. sides and linked by a 26-acre sloping The ribs of the design - the hatching of subsidiary garden with own mighty specimen trees, the paths and little bridges microclimate concentrated plantings, the across the stream and labyrinthine network of paths pools on the valley floor. jut upwards and outwards from the The planting patterns achieved narrow watercourse that is the garden’s within this complicated scene-set are spinal column. This manmade framework nothing short of miraculous. It helps that is grafted onto a narrow and steep-sided growth is so lush here, in one of the mildest valley that rolls down 150m from the level microclimates in the southwest, that the ground on which the house is positioned, to plants are never in danger of being eclipsed the distant blue smudge of Polgwidden by the hard landscaping. The gentle Cove. A broad horizontal walk passes undulations of the four and a half miles of
paths sets the visitor off on a selfdetermined journey. Now you find yourself walking among thickets of bamboos and tree ferns at ground level; now you’re almost at the canopy height of enormous trees. The views, both longitudinal and latitudinal, are breathtaking. It was in the first half of the 19th century that a trio of Foxes set about colonising the northern shore of the Helford River, less than a mile from the open sea. Charles went to ground at Trebah, Alfred at Glendurgan and Robert Were at Penjerrick. All three were passionate experimenters and plant collectors, and their gardens became famous for the wealth and diversity of their collections. The rare trees Charles Fox saw growing in the wild were shipped over to
ABOVE LEFT The Chilean fire bush, Embothrium coccineum, flowering in the woodland. ABOVE RIGHT The gunnera passage as the giant leaves of these stunning bog plants emerge in spring. BELOW, FROM LEFT Primula prolifera; Primula x bulleesiana; a bud of Rhododendron ‘Mrs Oliver Slocock’; Primula bulleyana.
rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and camellias, washing across and down the hillsides. These four groups provide glorious colour from February, when the champion Rhododendron protistum flowers deepest pink, to the miraculous appearance of the white blooms of Camellia sasanqua and C. japonica in December. Other major collections include the bamboos, ferns and tree ferns bristling beside the stream that runs along the valley floor, with a two-acre strip of blue hydrangeas contributing a pillowy effect. Spring is a ravishing time to visit, even by Cornish standards. The reds, pinks and whites of hundreds of magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas are joined by the clean clear palette of
yellows, blues and purples as acacias, daffodils, primulas and bluebells break into flower, all set off by the baby green foliage on thousands of trees and shrubs. By May, the impact and importance of water in all its forms - ponds, rills, streams and cascades - takes centre stage. The water garden proper lies below the house lawn, where the elegant tiers of candelabra primulas, arum lilies and skunk cabbages fringe the banks of the watercourse that runs down from a small circular pool into a steeply stepped rill. This then changes character as it becomes a winding stream, feeding a series of larger and larger pools, passing on its way an eyewatering display of giant lime-green gunnera parasols, and culminating in the
ABOVE LEFT Tree ferns and other more tender plants thrive in this garden’s warm and sheltered conditions. ABOVE RIGHT The waterfall cascade in the stumpery. BELOW, FROM LEFT Primula pulverulenta; Rhododendron luteum; Rhododendron ‘Lady Alice Fitzwilliam’; Primula japonica ‘Postford White’.
Trebah, and so keen was he on positioning them correctly, and on keeping open for posterity the vistas across and down the garden, that he erected scaffolding towers to mimic the eventual height and girth of his major specimens. Trebah can now lay claim to nine UK champions of very different character: two rhododendrons; a Japanese maple; a tree fern with a girth of nearly 2m; a Magnolia campbellii occupying pole position in the meadow grass of the Chilean Coomb; and the quartet of Laureliopsis philippiana from Chile, Podocarpus macrophyllus and Thujopsis dolabrata from Japan, and Trachycarpus fortunei from China. These and many other significant specimen trees and shrubs are flanked by scores of
circular Mallard Pond just beneath the perimeter wall. Darren Dickey, head gardener since 2002, is at once pragmatic and ambitious for the future. He’s not intimidated by the weight of history on his back, and the ‘preserve and enhance’ philosophy practised both by him and Trebah Garden Trust has taken the garden in positive directions. For ‘preserve’, read ensuring the continuity of champion trees by planting young specimens of Magnolia campbellii and monkey puzzles near their primogenitors; keeping the Chilean Coomb (‘the lungs of the place’) open and the vistas clear and layered; and, for spring, encouraging the
established drifts of bluebells to spread beyond their original bounds. For ‘enhance’, read creating a new acer glade; planting anemones, foxgloves and campions on the dry valley banks; and establishing large swathes of snowdrops, cyclamen,
Spring is a ravishing time to visit, even by Cornish standards erythroniums and other spring bulbs previously unknown to the garden. The future is colour. There are moves afoot on the hard landscaping front too. A handsome new amphitheatre for evening performances is nearing completion, hidden among
woodland trees to the right of the Chilean Coomb. The first performance is set for 13 June this year. But 2014 marks another poignant anniversary: the embarkation of men of the 29th US Infantry Division from Polgwidden Cove, transported from here to the killing ground at Omaha Beach in June 1944. As their last recorded sight of Cornwall, a few of those doomed soldiers must have witnessed the vibrant banner of colour through Trebah’s valley. Trebah Garden, Mawnan Smith, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 5JZ. Open daily, all year round, 10am-5pm. Tel: +44 (0)1326 252200. www.trebahgarden.co.uk
ABOVE The stunning vista down the valley to beyond the garden. BELOW LEFT Water trickles down the slope between plantings of vibrant primulas, tree ferns and variegated irises. BELOW RIGHT A wooden bench for relaxing on sits beneath towering bamboos in the ‘bamboozle’ area.
TREBAH notebook FOCUSING THE EYES The narrowness of the paths allows for plants to be enjoyed closely at every level - from the huge flowers of rhododendrons (below) in a variety of bright colours, to the exquisite tiers of neonhued candelabra primulas.
KNITTING IT ALL TOGETHER In the absence of garden rooms, rhythm and movement are achieved by planting successive blocks of tree ferns, bamboos, gunneras and hydrangeas along the valley floor. Acacias, magnolias, camellias and such have their own designated areas, but also pop up elsewhere as punctuation marks.
GARDEN CHALLENGES PATHS: Darren’s biggest issue is maintaining more than 4.5 miles of paths. This becomes a particular problem after heavy rain, with path washout a common occurrence. ‘We are gradually improving this by adding drainage channels to take the water away.’
HEAD GARDENER DARREN DICKEY’S TIPS ● Never rush to dig up plants that have been damaged by frost, as they may take a couple of months to recover. ● Prune evergreen azaleas with hedging shears just after they have finished flowering. This will help create a denser plant that will produce even more flowers. ● Prune camellias just after they finish flowering, before they start to form the flower buds for next year. If your plant has got too big, you can prune it back hard, as it will break again from bare stems. ● Spring is the time to feed and mulch bamboos. Apply a high-nitrogen fertiliser, water in and cover the surrounding ground with a 5-7cm layer of humus-rich mulch to encourage those new shoots. ● Give gunnera (right) crowns a thick humus-rich mulch in March when they start to emerge.
ALSO IN THE AREA
HASTA LA VISTAS The dominant vista is the one sweeping down from the house, but the multiple views across the valley are also crucial. As well as highlighting major trees, Darren groups eye-catchers together to create scale and interest. Elsewhere, he places large pots of exotics as focal points.
● GARDEN Glendurgan The garden created by Charles Fox’s brother Alfred, which shares the same geographical, topographical, historical and horticultural genes as Trebah but is very different in atmosphere. Mawnan Smith, Falmouth TR11 5JZ. Tel: +44 (0)1326 252020. www.nationaltrust.org.uk ● NURSERY Burncoose Well-stocked nursery, extensive mail-order service and helpful and well-ordered website. Darren sources several of the specialist new introductions he tries out at Trebah from here. Gwennap, Redruth TR16 6BJ. Tel: +44 (0)1209 860316. www.burncoose.co.uk ● CRAFTSPERSON Reece Ingram A Feock-based sculptor of peacable monolithic animals, totemic plants and natural forms in stone and wood, with work displayed in Trebah Garden. Tel: +44 (0)1872 862401. www.reeceingram.co.uk
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