Tremenheere Treats

We were all set to go to the rare plant fair at Tregrehan in Cornwall last Sunday. My train was booked months ago, the was itinerary planned and a wish-list written. Then two highly predictable things happened: I purchased a whole heap of plants elsewhere on Saturday (good ones too …. see below for details) and then it poured with rain on Sunday morning. So instead of buying plants I didn’t have the space for and getting wet in the process we stayed local and went back to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens.

Through sheets of fine, sideways rain – a Cornish speciality – we were surprised to find that the carpark was full. It turns out everyone was in the restaurant, and who could blame them? It’s excellent. So we shared the garden with just a handful of German ladies who had dressed for inclement weather and returned to the restaurant for lunch just as the sun came out.

Tremenheere is one of those gardens where it helps to know what you are looking at. From a design and layout point of view it is not exceptional, although the view towards St Michael’s Mount from higher ground are panoramic and beautiful. Sculptures add much needed punctuation points to an informal garden that lacks a fine house to anchor it.

For me this garden is all about the microclimate and the plants that flourish in it. From a shaded, babbling brook to open, sunbaked terraces, Tremenheere is jam-packed with fascinating plants quietly doing their own thing. None of them are labelled, which I would usually find frustrating. To avoid irritation I’ve turned each visit into a test of my plant knowledge – ‘what sort of ‘panax’ is that?’; ‘is it a magnolia or a michelia, or are they all the same thing nowadays?’ You know how the game goes. Lately The Beau has started to join in, which makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and, dare I say, slightly competitive.

Below are just five of the treasures we particularly admired on this visit and which I’d recommend to you if you have the right conditions to grow them.

1) Saxifraga stolonifera (creeping saxifrage)

I know Saxifraga stolonifera well having grown it in London when I lived in town. My clump never looked this good though. I suspect that’s because it revels in damp rather than dry shade. At Tremenheere it’s used to terrific effect as a groundcover, often planted on sheltered, sloping ground. Although it spreads by runners or ‘stolons’, just like a strawberry does, it is not invasive or weedy. Left alone it will cover as much or as little ground as you wish. The flowers are divinely delicate; each one reminds me of the angel that goes on top of a Christmas tree. A few sprays would make an ethereal addition to a wedding bouquet.

Where to buyEdrom Nursery (N.B. Beware the very high prices being charged by some online retailers. There’s no need to pay this much for a plant that multiplies relatively quickly. If you can’t get a plantlet from a gardening friend, wait until later in summer when nurseries like Edrom have produced saleable stock.) Plants are also available to buy from Tremenheere’s on-site nursery at the time of writing.

2) Wachendorfia thyrsiflora (red root)

This statuesque, large-scale plant is a must for almost frost-free gardens. In my opinion it’s better placed somewhere informal as the clumps of pleated leaves can get a little scraggy over time. In late spring and early summer long torches of yellow flower emerge and keep coming over a period of weeks. Wachendorfia thrysiflora prefers damp, even marshy conditions, but must have its head in the sun. At Tremenheere it’s planted on a sunny slope, where it must rely on water filtering down from higher ground.

Where to buyBurncoose Nurseries. Large plants are also available to buy from Tremenheere’s on-site nursery at the time of writing.

3) Decaisnea fargesii (dead man’s fingers)

What a headache this plant gave me. I knew I knew the name, but try as I may to confirm my identification I could find no reference to it anywhere. Turns out I was spelling Decaisnea incorrectly, which is easily done. Anyway, here we have a rather unusual shrub, known more for its creepy finger-like fruits that its elegant racemes of green flowers. Decaisnea fargesii produces both male and female flowers. Each female flower contains three separate carpels and therefore produces a ‘hand’ of three distinctive ‘fruitlets’. It’s these bluish-black, finger-shaped fruitlets covered in skin-like peel which have earned Decaisnea fargesii its ghoulish common name, dead man’s fingers.

There is some debate about whether the Chinese D. fargesii is one and the same species as the Indian D. insignis, only with blue fruits rather than yellow. (D. insignis is nowhere near as common in cultivation. The common name ‘monkey shit tree’ probably does not help matters.) Found growing wild at high altitudes, Decaisnea fargesii is hardy enough to be grown outdoors in the UK. Use the fruits as Halloween decorations, if you dare!

Where to buyBluebell Nursery & Arboretum, or, if you fancy growing from seed, try Chiltern Seeds.

4) Schefflera delavayi

Impressive, would be one word to describe this enormous Schefflera. Huge leaves, bigger than a dustbin lid when mature, suggest Shefflera delavayi might not be hardy, when in fact it’s at least as tough as commonly grown Fatsia japonica. Plants will reach quite a size in time (12ft+), the one at Tremenheere being as wide as it is high, lolloping across the woodland floor in search of dappled sunlight. If I had a large, woodland garden Schefflera delavayi would be one of the first shrubs I’d plant, not just for splendid, glossy foliage, but for the bristly panicles of ivory flowers that appear in summer and autumn.

Where to buy – Crûg Farm Plants

5) Impatiens stenantha (narrow-flowered balsam)

Every time I visit Tremenheere I am forced past a lush clump of this small-flowered Busy Lizzie relative. It sprouts from the top and sides of a moss-covered boulder, producing clusters of yellow, red-speckled flowers. Native to the mountains of Nepal and Bhutan, Impatiens stenantha feels at home in the cool, wet, West Country and prefers a good degree of shade. Unlike the summer bedding variety, this impatiens is hardy to -15ºC if planted in the ground and mulched. It will die down and obligingly reappear in spring.

Where to buy – Growild Nursery

The irony of last weekend is that I purchased at least as many plants at Treemenheere as I would have done at Tregrehan, so my attempt at abstinence failed entirely. The Beau, when next he visits Broadstairs, will need to convert his mini into a greenhouse on wheels. He had better get used to it. TFG.

I’d love to hear what plants you’ve indulged in over the last few days. Were they planned or purchased on impulse? Did you have room for them or not? Do share your moments of weakness … it will make me feel a lot better.

The Damage

  • Agave iophantha ‘Quadricolour’ (Tremenheere / Surreal Succulents)
  • Agave iophantha (Tremenheere / Surreal Succulents)
  • Lonicera hildebrandiana, the giant Burmese honeysuckle (Tremenheere)
  • Agapetes serpens ‘Red Elf’ (Cross Common Nursery)
  • Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Rose Sensation’ (Cross Common Nursery)
  • Iochroma coccinea fuchsioides (Cross Common Nursery)
  • Ampelopsis brevipendiculata ‘Elegans’, variegated porcelain berry (Cross Common Nursery)
  • Linaria ‘Spanish Dancer’ (from a garden gate in Gunwalloe)
  • Fuchsia ‘Thalia’ (as above)
  • Costus erythrophyllus ‘Rubra’ (a very lovely gift from The Beau)

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27 thoughts on “Tremenheere Treats

  1. Just popped over to Sussex Prairie Gardens today between showers – really worth a visit if you haven’t been. Treated myself to a Baptisia Australis (blue wild indigo) and a couple of Hordeum Jubatum (foxtail barley).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You can rest assured you are not alone. I bought a begonia that drapes over the side of the pot because it was blooming orange, a color I am especially appreciating this summer. Did I need it? No, but it was blooming orange! I also bought a Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis. A plant that likes wet feet for the most part. I have one spot in the garden with those conditions and it is full. Where will I plant it?? A shrub. What was I thinking???? I love those button blooms but where oh where will it go? I bought Elephants Foot Elephantopus caroliniana, because I liked the name; some Path Rush because it is a deep green and I liked the way it looked. There really is no rhyme or reason. A gardener really can’t help themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t purchased anything recently, but I have gleefully accepted various things from friends even when I hadn’t a clue where I would plant them. Last weekend I received a large clump of variegated Solomon Seal – now happily blooming in the dappled shade of a small birch tree. BTW – Ampelopsis is gorgeous! But can quickly run rampant, over here st least….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chris. I bet that Solomon’s Seal looks beautiful under a birch tree? I’ve recently bought a variegated Disporum which is like a miniature Solomon’s Seal. It’s in a pot, of course, since I have very little soil to plant in.

      I don’t mind the Ampelopsis being a little bit rampant. It cannot be any worse than my Holboellia which requires almost weekly pruning in summer. I almost regret planting it now as I can’t just let it go.


  4. Thank you for all the interesting stories of your different travels. I do enjoy them and comparing them to our climate, sub-tropical here in Australia. Do keep them coming.
    Going to look for Saxifraga as I have seen it in the nurseries.
    Margaret Attrill

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Margaret. Our seasons are always the exact opposite so I’m conscious I am not always terribly relevant to my Australian readers.

      You need a lot of moisture to get that saxifrage going. Don’t let it get too hot or dry otherwise it might struggle.


      1. This Australian reader enjoys your travel and plant descriptions regardless of the time of year. I am sure many would agree.

        Always look forward to reading the next update.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Linda. Yes, they should be completely hardy but I will probably pop them in the greenhouse to keep them dry over winter.

      I don’t need a lot of convincing that being outdoors / gardening / among nature is good for me. It’s where I am happiest ….. other than tucked up in bed on a horrid day like today!


  5. No plant buying for me for a long time. A very hot dry summer and now we’re into winter, it’s still dry, and getting frosty. I’m concentrating on keeping the plants I have alive and I seem to have lost ‘the obsession’ for trying new and exciting plants which to me is one of the many joys of gardening. So I’m very happy to read you’re still out there and whooping up in the best possible way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I am. Driving the UK nursery business forward single handed 🙂

      Your weather has been very challenging this year. At times like these it’s the right choice to focus on what you’ve got rather than planting more. I hope you get some sustained rain before spring arrives, giving the garden time to reset. Dan


  6. I have been on a plant buying detox, pledging that this season the only new plants in the garden will be ones I have propagated myself. However a recent visit to Beth Chattos garden made me buy 3 unusual pelargoniums. I couldn’t resist. Thanks for your interesting piece and also for making me feel better about my minor relapse. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We were at Tremenheere a week ago and although I was tempted in the nursery I’d left it a bit late to browse properly so I shall have to go back. Thanks for ID of Saxifraga stolonifera – I was wondering what that was, I thought maybe some kind of Epimedium. It is rather splendid. The only things I have bought recently have been 50p Dahlia tubers (3 out of 4 have sprouted, now to see if I can keep the S&S off them), some 50p Freesia bulbs and some rather lovely Hellebore seeds that I must get sown today! Like many other gardeners here I am running out of space for more plants, but that doesn’t stop me from looking!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bad day for not buying plants!!! It was the first plant fair that we have organised at the wonderfully restored Hestercombe house and gardens near Taunton and despite stoic promises not to buy, …… I did. It started with Impatiens omeiana ‘Sango ‘ then there was Scutelleria scordifolia (both from Gary at Millwood plants) it carried on with Iris x versicolor ‘Mysterious Monique’ that was from Chase plants, oh and then there’s Melittis melissophyllum!! Did resist Barracotts hardy Begonias, so tempted as I started with the easier ones last year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice haul Rob. Resistance was futile, but sounds like you were highly selective. Well done!

      The last time I went to Hestercombe I was a student and I think the Fire Brigade owned the house. Even then the garden was kept pretty well, but only the formal parts as I remember.

      Thanks for sharing your indulgences. I hope they grow well for you. Dan


  9. Last week I purchased 2 shrubs – Indigofera pendula and Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. I have nowhere to plant them and they probably won’t survive our winters here in the cold East Midlands. Not very sensible. I had to go out and buy two very large pots (much more expensive than the plants themselves) so the plants can be placed on our patio next to the south-facing wall of the house. They will probably still need extra protection in winter.

    I loved your post about exotic plants in Miami. I particularly loved Strophanthus boivinii. I lived in various tropical countries when I was young so really hanker after plants like this.i nearly rushed online to obtain some seeds but I only have a small greenhouse that is already crammed full of tender plants each winter, so common sense prevailed – but only just!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two very nice shrubs / small trees there. In pots they will be vulnerable to the cold so it might be worth bubble-wrapping the pots. My Sophora did not like The Beast from the East but thankfully it came roaring back from the base.

      Cross Common Nursery have Strophanthus speciosus, but the common name ‘Forest poison rope’ is not endearing. Useful if you want something to tip a poison arrow or to cure a snake bite though 😉


  10. I can’t be trusted in a nursery. If the item I went in for isn’t available I’ll still buy other things and then walk around my garden looking for somewhere to put them. I’ve also been guilty of buying plants that I know will struggle in my climate, usually because I’ve listed after them on a northern hemisphere blog. I do love that Saxifraga, especially in the photo of it spilling over the steps. I would be able to grow it in Sydney, where we used to live, but certainly not here.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thank you so much for your kind comments
    One minor detail -the Impatiens featured above is not I stenantha-the Tremenheere plant lacks the small circular leaf appendages ,is considerably taller & hails from Emei Shan in Sichuan.
    It is a form of I omeiana -possibly the same plant as was introduced to America as I omeiana Eco Hardy.It all gets a bit hazy after this.

    More worrying is the casual remark “from a design and lay out point of view” the gardens are not exceptional.
    Clearly Tremenheere -a reworked bare hillside and adjoining woodland -does not have the classic structure and setting of the big house and subservient garden.Therefore a different set of criteria and objectives apply.
    No ranks of pleached hornbeam nor deep and layered perennial borders occur in nature.
    The objective here is to create an Arcadian space where atmosphere and soul are the intangibles amongst a balanced trinity of landscape, art and planting .
    Celebrate the natural blessings of microclimate, soil ,shelter and views
    -a different set of reference points.
    Access paths ,vista framing ,siting of sculptures, still and running water, tree canopy pruning to create light effects etc all require detailed design input
    Overall a transportive experience for those who appreciate it is the aim-this requires imagination with restraint , discipline and consistency.

    Tremenheere does not aspire to replicate the ornamental gardens of middle England .

    The great American landscape designer A.E Bye said he would like to leave each work with the feeling that no landscape designer were involved.
    To fully appreciate Tremenheere it is necessary to leave pre-conceptions in the car park.
    Please come and enjoy
    All best
    Neil Armstrong -owner

    Liked by 1 person

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