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 buy – Edrom 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 buy – Burncoose 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!
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.
- 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)