Surreal Succulents


A visit to Cornwall with a car is a plant buying opportunity extraordinaire. Although I live on the opposite side of the country, nurseries in the South West cater for coastal gardens better than those in any other county, often setting aside large areas for plants useful in creating shelter belts and those suited to exposed gardens. Cornish nurseries are unmatched for offering tried-and-tested, tender exotics, as well as proffering learned advice on how to cultivate them successfully.

I have my favourites, including Hardy Exotics at Whitecross and Burncoose near Redruth, but now I have a new nursery on my ‘must visit’ list – Tremenheere Nursery at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens near Penzance.



Tremenheere Nursery is home to Surreal Succulents, established in 2010. The original collection of aeoniums, aloes, sempervivums and echeverias was started in 2004 by an enthusiast called Daniel Michael. His legacy is perpetuated by a small team with years of experience in breeding and growing succulents suited to cultivation indoors, and outdoors in milder counties. The collection is so extensive that National Collection status has been applied for, recognising a burgeoning assembly of aeoniums …. or might ‘rosette of aeoniums’ be a more fitting collective noun? For all their variety – Surreal Succulents offer 69 varieties of aeonium in all – it’s hard to find one more fascinating than plate-like Aeonium tabuliforme from Tenerife with its characteristic, flattened profile.

The nursery works closely with Planet Echeveria to offer the latest hybrids of these popular succulents. I was immediately taken by a handsome stock specimen of Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’ (top of post) which I’d happily have taken home with me, had it been for sale. The beefy rosette measured a good 30cm across.



The sculpture gardens at Tremenheere are not easy to find. I have been before, and even I struggle. If one leaves the main road into Penzance at the first roundabout, following signs for the National Dahlia Collection (which, once again, I ran out of time to see) then one gets there in the end. Using your Sat Nav is the best bet. Once one finds the carpark and walks up to the reception building, one can appreciate the site’s superb situation at the foot of a sheltered valley, offering views directly toward St Michael’s mount.

We skipped the sculpture gardens this time, in favour of the cafe, shop and nursery. This may sound lazy, but little effort is made to encourage visitors to do otherwise. The cafe is excellent. Arriving early my sister and I treated ourselves to eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine, which we agreed were the best we’d enjoyed in a long while. The Moo enjoyed an especially unctuous flapjack. From the shop I bought the only copy of ‘Gardening on the Edge’, chastising myself for not knowing this book existed until now. I anticipate it will become something of a bible for me hereafter.



The roof of another little shop, which sits inside the nursery compound, is a thing of wonder, adorned with shaggy clumps of orange and yellow Bulbine frutescens and prickly carpets of sedum and sempervivum studded with gazanias. Together they form a green tapestry, sub-tropical style. Seeing it for a second time I resolved to create something similar when funds allow me to replace my garage roof. For once I can offer exactly the dry, sunbaked conditions that these plants relish.



Inside, succulents are used in multitude of ways to create pleasing displays for the home. I have a slight aversion to mixed pots of anything, especially miniature arrangements, but Surreal Succulents get away with it by using achingly lovely porcelain vessels, decorated in the manner of Jackson Pollock. They are little works of art in their own right. I’m over hanging glass balls and geometric terrariums now, but they are still popular and commercial. As a retailer I appreciate they make great pick-up lines or gifts.



It will not be long before I am forced to bring my airplants in from their summer sojourn in the garden. I’ll risk it for another three weeks and get them safely indoors before bonfire night. I had no plan for how to display them so was pleased to spot this very simple and effective device: a wall-mounted grid.


With several more nurseries to visit I was quite restrained in my purchasing, although there was much to tempt at very resonable prices. Many of the plants offered are very generously sized and all look super healthy. I chose just three, but will be back for more without doubt.

If you are heading west to Penzance, Land’s End or the Isles of Scilly, be sure to make a detour. Just make sure your boot and your tummy are empty. TFG

For directions, opening times and admission prices, please click here. Admission to the shop, cafe and nursery is free and dogs are welcome outside. as demonstrated by my beloved Boycie.


The Damage:

  • Grevillea victoriae (which I so admired at Trebah)
  • Aloe arborescens ‘Variegata’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gold Bar’