Godolphin Rises

Reading time 7 minutes

As I make my way home from Cornwall I have time between snoozes to reflect on how lovely the last few days have been. The weather has been vastly better in the West Country and England’s gardens are sprinkled with a floral confetti of pink, white, yellow, blue and mauve. (In Cornwall, thanks to a preponderance of camellias and rhododendrons, the spring palette also includes red and magenta.) It’s time to get out and enjoy gardens again, in the company of friends and family, or in delicious solitude.

On Monday we visited Godolphin for the first time. Godolphin is an ancient, once pivotal Cornish estate which found itself falling slowly and quietly into obscurity and neglect after the 1700’s. The house, gardens and farmland are now in the hands of the National Trust, who are restoring the place with particular sensitivity. Surrounded by bluebell woods, fields and historic, mined landscapes the atmosphere at Godolphin is one of antiquity and serenity. It’s as if the clock stopped at the end of the 18th Century, with few obvious clues as to what happened thereafter. I am half inclined not to give too glowing an account lest the place become overrun with visitors, but somehow I doubt it.

The gardens at Godolphin are of significant historical importance. They are considered to be among the earliest ‘designed’ gardens in Britain, made at a time when most houses would have been surrounded by defensive earthworks or deer parks rather than beds of flowers. The original house of 1310 is thought to have stood at the centre of a grid of nine square garden enclosures. This was updated to create a formal, Italianate garden around 1475, complete with ponds, fountains, gilded statues and elevated grass paths allowing the gardens to be viewed from above. At Godolphin the Cornish elite would have met and marvelled at the jewel-like gardens, the likes of which most would not have laid eyes on before. The Godolphins, who were later to become Earls, used their garden as a demonstration of power, wealth and taste. The contrast with the rest of rural, isolated Cornwall must have been stark.

When the National Trust considered how to breathe life into Godolphin’s gardens they had a difficult decision to make – restore, probably at immense cost, to reflect a particular period in the estate’s evolution, or leave them be and let them develop from there. The Trust chose the latter path, restricting digging to a single spade-depth to protect hundreds of years of history lying just a few inches beneath the earth. Hence the garden is quite unlike many National Trust properties in that it’s particularly casual and approachable. One might even describe it as very large cottage garden.

There are no fancy or rare plants, just the sort of things we all associate with an English country garden – roses, foxgloves, aquilegias and in spring, primroses ….. tens of thousands of primroses. Sprouting from every path, wall, border or lawn there are tender young primroses in abundance. The intermingling of our native Primula vulgaris with garden primroses and polyanthus has resulted in all sorts of curious antique-rose, pink and cream variations. They may not be thoroughbreds but they are completely charming and not at all out of place. Along Godolphin’s raised grass walks primroses mingle with snake’s head fritillaries, daisies, celandines and violets, just as one might find them represented in an Elizabethan tapestry.

Godolphin has the sort of garden I might consider manageable if ever I had the means to buy a country house or the time to tend to it. It sits carefully on the boundary of wild and well maintained. The formality of the layout and the structure afforded by low walls and box hedges permits the rest of the planting to get a little blurred. I should like to visit Godolphin again in late May or early June to see how the gardens look during those more exuberant months. Just now, when the bare bones are starting to be covered by a delicate mantle of blossom, the gardens give the impression that they have changed very little over the last 700 years. Long after its glory days have passed, Godolphin looks forward to a long and peaceful retirement.

Godolphin is situated at Godolphin Cross, near Helston in Cornwall. Visit the National Trust website for information and opening times. Leave it a couple of weeks and the woods will be carpeted with bluebells.

Categories: Uncategorized

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

Leave a Reply

47 comments On "Godolphin Rises"

  1. It looks beautiful. I love your phrase “in delicious solitude”. No hurry, no anxiousness that others like it as much as you, time to get the sense of the place and to connect.
    I like this idea of ordinary, workaday plants.

    1. I have very mixed feelings about visiting gardens with other people. On one hand I like the different perspective I get from a companion. On the other hand I do tend to be hyper-conscious that I like to take my time – make notes, take photographs, soak it all in – and that I am probably holding them up. Then I rush and wish I had spent more time! I guess I still need to meet that perfect garden-visiting friend.

      1. I am lucky that when the OH and I visit a garden we go off on our own and meet up usually at the end of a garden with one or other of us sitting on a bench soaking up the sun. I like to take my time too and fortunately he allows me to do so. As long as I buy him cake 😀

      1. We were able to go inside the house, which I found a little disappointing. It’s a holiday let so the furnishings were not what you’d normally expect. It was never going to be the main event for me. I was happy looking at it from the grounds.

  2. Beautifully written Dan. Thank you .
    Godolphin sounds a perfect place to visit “In delicious solitude” .

  3. I like the idea of informality and approachability in this garden, as though it is almost something I could achieve myself, on a smaller scale. With the space, the money and the weather, of course!

    1. Indeed. And to mimic a Cornish garden you need a lot of ‘mizzle’, which is quite a particular form of light rain that hangs in the air and keeps everything nice and damp. Probably a rare commodity where you are!

  4. It’s the kind of garden I’d love to have too (with the help of a gardener) as it has all the bits I love – a walled garden, wide borders, Cornish walls, a wild meadow, an orchard and bee hives, plus the woodland with its bluebells AND a wonderful walk up Godolphin Hill with the most incredible 360 degree view! Unlike St Michael’s Mount which gets unbelievably busy, this sweet garden is usually lovely and quiet. I might have to pop over and have a look at these primroses for myself now. Lovely photos Dan 🙂

    If you want a little look at what it is like in late April and June then take a look here at a post that is on my garden blog:

    1. Thank you for sharing the link. Now I know I need to go back again! I love all that saturated, blurry green-ness. I did not get to walk up the hill so will save that experience for my next visit. Now, on a packed and delayed train for the second day running, the thought of being out in the open and breathing fresh air is very appealing.

  5. I love this post! Too much to savor at one sitting. I have been re-reading it and remembering how much I miss visiting Cornwall. If you ever found yourself in Houston, where you are always welcome to one of my extra rooms, you would see how much my personal garden is influenced from my time in your wonderful part of the world. My Mother’s maiden name is Pender…so I do believe i have some Cornish ancestors. Thank you for sharing!!!

    1. It sounds very likely that you have some Cornish blood. Good for you. Strong, hardy stock! Thank you for the invitation. I hope another visit to Cornwall will be possible in the future. There’s plenty of space there for one more 😉 Dan

  6. Fabulous commentary of an unknown gem, thanks for enlightening us and your photos show if off so that we can see what’s in flower now.

  7. Entranced from the word go. That blue door just drew me in. Savouring every picture and your every word. Thank you for another ((has to be your best yet) delightful post.

    1. Thanks Sally! That’s kind of you to say. It was a nice post to write, despite having rage with the lack of WiFi on various trains! I hope none of that filtered through. I have a slot on WordPress Discover today so I hope others will enjoy this post too. Dan

  8. I visited many years ago when it was still run and owned by the family we were the only visitors that afternoon. It was tricky to find in the lanes back then no signs and only open for a couple of hours on a midweek afternoon! Good to see your photos of it today it was a stunning little place!

  9. What a beautiful place, thank you for sharing it. It can be difficult to decide when armed with just a National Trust book where to spend limited time.
    I also loved the phrase ‘delicious solitude’ and am so glad to know there are others out there who feel the anxiousness and hurry that company can bring to an experience.

    1. I think there’s a time and a place for company, and the same for being on one’s own. The most precious thing is having time at one’s disposal. Do visit Godolphin if you have time on a future visit to Cornwall. I imagine it would be lovely at any time of the year.

  10. Dan, as always beautifully written; you made me want to visit Godolphin and feel guilty at digging out the celandines from my own garden. I love the effect of the primroses they have achieved – making it look effortless!

    1. The primroses arrange themselves very effectively in this part of the world! I do love a celandine, but that’s perhaps because I don’t have an infestation of them! They seem more controlled growing in the grassed areas at Godolphin. No good if you like a pristine lawn though!

  11. I’ve read so many novels set in Cornwell that I can almost imagine myself there, but your story and the photographs really exude the charm of the place for me. Interesting how English primroses behave in Cornwall. Over here in central Washington state, the climate is too cold, too dry, to be conducive for primroses to return in subsequent years. Therefore, I have to buy a new set each spring, but each plant sits up so “prim and proper” that they lose their charm. I’d rather the woodland violets that seem to thrive here, even in my herb garden. They arrive right after the crocuses.

    1. Go with what grows, that’s my advice. Where I am in the east of England you don’t see primroses growing like that anywhere, not naturally at least. The climate is too dry. Violets are a lovely substitute. Dan

  12. Hello Dan , very much enjoyed your Cornish blogs and just want to say that when you are down in the west country again do go to Hill House Nursery at Landscove in South Devon. I visited it this afternoon and was absolutely blown away by its thrilling beauty, remoteness and plant perfection. Apparently once the home of a well known garden writer called Edward Hyams, the building is an old vicarage by a church but now the home of a stunning plantsmans nursery. Not a garden centre in any sense other than it is stuffed with everything any frustrated gardener could possibly want! Tender perennials and exotics of all kinds as well as every other plant, herb or vegetable you have ever heard of (plus many I for one have never heard of!). I know that you love vibrant colour in your garden and even in this cold Spring the polytunnels there are full of overwintered treasures already in flower and full of scent. Too many to name but take a look at their website! This afternoon the whole place was alive with singing birds, many of whom were inside the greenhouses. if you have any money left after you have been round there is also a little tea room where I can recommend the very peppery cheese scones which you can take outside and forget all about the modern world for a few hours. If you are training it again rather than driving, the station is Totnes and then taxi straight to Landscove.


    1. What a brilliant tip! Thank you Julia. I’ve had a quick look at the website but it was far too exciting for a Sunday morning! I shall look back later. Totnes is lovely (my sister went to Darlington College) so I need little excuse to venture back that way again. Your wonderful description has already transported me half way there. Dan

  13. There are a few reasons I’d love to visit Cornwall and here’s a wonderful new one. This place seems near magical. I am greedily hoping you go again and share the experience.

    1. There are SO many reasons to visit Cornwall that I wouldn’t know where to start in listing them all Dave. I’d happily live there if I could. I will certainly go back … on a nice summer’s day …. with a picnic and a good book. Bliss!

  14. Your post brought back lovely memories of an equally bright day spent there during the Easter holidays a few years ago. As I remember, it felt oddly familiar. I could never quite put my finger on why that would be, but your pictures of primroses mingling with other spring flowers, including “weeds”, in relaxed informality may provide a clue. You describe it as cottage garden style, but it also seems to be a very wide-spread “style” (not consciously chosen) in German gardens where spring tends to be a cheerful but gaudy affair: think blue Muscari, yellow Doronicum and signal-red tulips together with the “mongrel” primroses. Despite its formal layout the whole garden exuded that feeling of “couldn’t care less about my impression on others, I just want to be and enjoy spring”. An atmosphere that is as infectious as it is charming.

  15. “Typical English Garden”. Looks idyllic to me.
    Here in South Africa, I have stopped waiting for my husband to bring me flowers.
    I plant my own and feed my soul. I have a sweeping bougainvillea which somedays matches my almost red lipstick. Brunsfelia blossoms feed my love of whimsy and reinforces my Dad’s heavenly presence. Marigolds because I am simply Indian. Curry leaf tree because well, Indian home again, paw-paws and mangoes. I’m trying to get an avocado tree in but I fear the husband may ask me to sleep under it… he tires of the leaves.
    I could go on…
    Will be looking out for your posts.
    Kind regards from Sunshiny South Africa

    1. Your garden sounds like paradise, and your descriptions are lovely. A garden full of meaningful and useful plants.

      Perhaps you need to send your hubby back for training, as he should know that everyone loves to receive flowers! We agree about trees that drop excessive leaves though. Dan

Follow The Frustrated Gardener and have new posts sent directly to your inbox

Join 8,224 other subscribers

Wordpress users click to subscribe here

Follow The Frustrated Gardener