18 Jan Garden Historians Take A Trip To Cornwall
Have you taken a trip to Cornwall but stopping by China, South America and maybe Mount Everest too? That is what our Garden Historians did when they visited the gardens of Trewidden, Glendurgan, Trebah, Trengwainton, Tregerhan and last but not least St Michael’s Mount for a field trip in April this year.
The trip was to see the early flowering plants and to observe the effect of the cold snowy snap the country experienced in March on these lovely Cornish gardens. These gardens benefit greatly from their mild south west location with their proximity to the Gulf Stream allowing sub-tropical plants to flourish outside which is unusual in Britain.
First stop was Trewidden near Penzance where South America came to Cornwall’s shores in the form of Butia capitate, or Jelly Palm, a “Champion Tree” over 100 years old and it is thought to be possibly the largest of its kind in the UK itself.
This tree is suffering from old age now and our damp climate is slowly rotting this champion palm but it is still producing many flowers each year, although the seeds sadly are not viable either because it is too cold for them to ripen or the seeds are sterile as the tree is a lone specimen and so no pollination can occur.
Why Jelly Palm? In its native Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay its sweet apricot flavoured fruits are made into delicious jellies and jam.
Everyone likes to stop for a cuppa now and then but in Trewidden we can go a step further and see first hand the very important shrub that gives us our daily brew. The Camelia Camellia sinensis var.sinensisis indeed is rather plain looking shrub but together with its close relative Camellia sinensis var. assamicaall the tea we drink comes from these two plants.
This plant is found growing naturally south of the River Yangtze in China together with other locations in Japan, South Korea and also Southeast Asia.
Today it extensively cultivated in all the tea growing areas of the world with China, India, Sri Lanka and Taiwan being the largest producers.
Trewidden has another Chinese connection with the Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides – this particular specimen thought to have been planted in the late 1940’s early 1950’s and one of the first to be planted in Britain.
This is because this species of tree was only known from fossils and botanists had thought it to be extinct until in 1941 it was discovered living and growing in the wild in China. Being one of the few deciduous conifers it is beautiful in Autumn and Spring making it a very garden worthy tree.
Two lovely adjacent gardens just south of Falmouth were visited being Glendurgan and Trebah. Both have a wide range of subtropical plants planted along two valleys running down to their own beaches on the Helford River with the rhododendrons being spectacular despite the late frosts.
Trengwainton outside Penzance had an impressive series of walled gardens whilst Tregerhan near St Austell was packed with shrubs and trees which gave it the feel of a Botanic Garden.Enormous Rhododendrons, a very mature Podocarpus nivalis and Macrocarpa Cypress were exceptional.
St Michael’s Mount was a joy with a special private tour given by the Head Gardener being the icing on the cake.
The vast majority of the plants seen during the Cornish trip had come through the cold snap relatively unharmed. The plants most affected were Tree Ferns, Dicksonia Antartica which had damage to the fronds, but they did look as though they would recover.