Anyone who has spent time holidaying in Cornwall will know that the county’s weather can be relied upon to dictate your itinerary from start to finish. Rarely does a day start as it means to go on: ‘four seasons in one day’ is not so much a concept as a way of life on the most south-westerly tip of England.
If you are determined to adhere to your plans, then you had better be prepared for all weathers. It’s often the case that one coast is shrouded in mist or fog whilst the other basks in sunshine. On family holidays when I was a child, my dad would often drive around the county searching desperately for the sun. There is, you see, very little to do indoors and certainly nothing to compare the glories of the Cornish coast and countryside. Hence no day out is safely embarked upon without a raincoat, sweater, thick socks, wellies, sunglasses, a brimmed hat and sunscreen, packed just in case. (Umbrellas are generally as useful as a chocolate teapot in Cornwall, since the wind blows incessantly.)
Despite being well prepared for rough weather, the deluge which preceded last week’s visit to Tremenheere Sculpture Garden was enough to put the most ardent garden visitor off. It had been teeming down since lunchtime, rendering even the most sheltered spots soggy and cold. My niece Martha had declared that Sunday May 23rd would be a unicorn-themed day, marking the occasion by wearing a blush-pink dress covered in net roses and a headband adorned with a rainbow horn. Accessorised with green wellies and a blue anorak, it was a look her great-grandmother might have called ‘fetching’.
Being a Cornish girl, Martha was completely unfazed by the atrocious conditions, shaming us adults into sticking with Plan A. After dithering in plant sales and then delaying further by loitering around the tea hut clasping hot chocolates, we finally commenced our walk. Entering the woodland garden at the bottom of the valley, it struck me immediately that some gardens might be better experienced on a rainy day. There were very few visitors for starters. (This is always a bonus, although why is it that even in an almost empty garden, there is always someone wearing a bright red cagoule standing exactly where you wish to take a photograph?). Then there were the colours; bright, clear and slicked with water. The sound as each drop of rain bounced eagerly through the canopy made the whole space come alive. Martha sped on ahead, filled with excitement as I wasted time wiping splashes from my glasses. ‘It’s just like a tropical rain forest!’ she exclaimed, and she was quite right, as children often are.
The tree ferns at Tremenheere are remarkable, less for their abundance, which is greater elsewhere, than for their great variety. I am insufficiently expert to identify them all, but I recognise Dicksonia antarctica due to its relative abundance in Cornish gardens, and Cyathaea medullaris because of it’s slender black trunk and gigantic, gauzy fronds. These are plants that only grow well in climatically blessed localities such West Cornwall and the south-west of Ireland. Here they are spared the coldest temperatures by the Gulf Stream and shielded from the wind in thickly-wooded valleys or ancient quarries. Gardeners attempt to grow tree ferns elsewhere – myself included when I lived in London – but except in very charmed locations I always feel they are existing rather than thriving.
As we climbed out of the valley I was stopped in my tracks by a fabulous Pieris japonica with flamingo-pink leaves. When wet, the foliage possesses a sheen similar to that of capiz shells. How much more beautiful are these shrubs, so loved by my Cornish grandmother, than the horrible, coarse Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’? I detest this poor, misused plant. Like the child of a pushy parent, it has been grossly overstretched in terms of its true capabilities. It is touted as the perfect shrub for almost any situation, which it patently is not, to the point that it’s destined to be loathed by anyone who inherits it. I fear ‘Red Robin’ may be the Leylandii of the next gardening generation. Anyway, I digress. Lower down the valley I had spotted an ageing whorl of mahonia leaves, slowly developing the classic colours of autumn. It was so beautiful and unexpected among the verdure that it barely seemed real.
There have been developments at Tremenheere since my last visit, and I suspect there may be more planned for the future. A section of the garden on the eastern boundary, overlooking St Michael’s Mount, has been cleared to make room for a new sculpture called ‘Holding Breath’. Call me a heathen – it’s been said before – but this artwork is not my cup of tea. However, the sleek viewing platform next to it very much is. A deck cantilevers out from the hillside, projecting towards the Mount’s Bay. The planting beneath it is interesting, a bank of swishing grasses, shrubs and perennials which I need to study in more detail on a dry day. On this visit it was all about keeping moving and completing our circuit before closing time.
With its rapidly evolving landscape, burgeoning collection of sculptures, excellent restaurant and cornucopic nursery filled with plants grown by Surreal Succulents, Tremenheere is rapidly becoming one of our favourite places to visit in West Cornwall. Dogs on a lead are permitted in the garden, which is a big advantage for us. Come rain or shine this garden has something to offer – shelter in the valley or inside James Turrell’s mesmerising elliptical chamber entitled ‘Tewlwolow Kernow’, magnificent views of the Cornish coast, plants that you’ll rarely find growing outside elsewhere in the UK and great food to sustain you on a visit that could easily fill a full day.
We returned to our cars, dripping wet and a little chilly, very happy that we’d stood up to the weather and gone ahead with our Plan A. Our only disappointment was that the nursery and shop were closed on departure, so any indulgent purchases will have to wait until our next visit. TFG.