Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Treasures of Tregrehan

The woodland garden at Tregrehan is one the gardens we regularly visit in Cornwall. We love it so much that we've visited four times in the last couple of years, and if people ask us which of the Cornish gardens we've visited is our favourite we always says it's a tie between this garden and another one

I remember when we first went to Cornwall and visited some of the exotic plant nurseries there, a nurseryman noted my penchance for southern hemisphere plants, woodland perennials, and high altitude new Asian introductions. He recommended that we visit the garden of Tregrehan and that we'd 'love it' for its atmosphere and the sort of planting that they have. It took us awhile to follow his recommendation but when we eventually did, we never looked back.

The Walled Garden with a row of glasshouses to one side

The gate between the Walled Garden and the Woodland Glade, a promise of more things to see...
Tregrehan is a 20 acre woodland garden rich in exotic plants from temperate regions. The estate has been the home of the Carlyon family since 1565, a family with a heritage of horticultural interests. The garden contains various exotic plants introduced by members of the Carlyon family through the years, as well as other plant hunters since the early 19th century. Today it is the home of Tom Hudson and his family, the latest descendant of the Carlyon family to take over the estate, and himself a well respected plant hunter continuing the long botanical heritage of both the family and the garden.

Tregrehan is open to the public a few days a week for most of the year, and only once a week during the summer months. It is listed too in the Gardens of Cornwall guide and participates in the Gardener's World Magazine's 2 for 1 offer. Despite this, it is still a relatively obscure garden and is rarely mentioned amongst the top garden attractions of Cornwall. But that is how they want it, keeping their publicity muted and relying on word of mouth and recommendations to attract a steady stream of visitors. In a way it's also a means to maintaining the serene atmosphere of the garden which could be disrupted if it attracted droves of visitors in any one point (like some of the more popular Cornish gardens).

Afterall,it is still in essence a private garden, albeit on a colossal scale.

The staffing of the garden is kept to a minimum, with most of the maintenance done by Tom Hudson himself, as well as his head gardener, a few volunteers, and immediate members of his family. Despite the minimum manpower, the garden is immaculate for its type, which is also a hint of the balance that the garden has already achieved through hundreds of years of care.

The Yew Walk
Rows of self sown Dicksonia antarcticas near the hidden seating area...
We were fortunate enough to have met him and he has graciously shown us some of his private collection of plants, most of which, if not all were collected from his own plant hunting expeditions; as well as a behind the scenes tour of his glasshouses. So many treasures, so many beautiful plants collected by him from temperate regions of Asia and the southern hemisphere.

Tetrastigma rumicispermum

But those were just the tip of the iceberg and plant treasures are plenty abound, planted out in the garden and ready to be enjoyed by anyone who visits the place.

The garden contains a fantastic collection of mature trees, many of which are hundreds of years old and original plantings of previous generations, towering over other plants creating that ethereal woodland atmosphere of the garden. The trees provide the canopy that smaller, shade loving plants need to thrive as well as providing shelter from the elements. There are also rows of trees strategically planted in certain areas to serve as shelter belts. The location of the garden is already mild by its own accord but the shelter belt provides that extra protection to help relatively new plantings to thrive and flourish in the garden. And most of these new plantings were introduced there by Tom Hudson himself ever since he took charge of the place, collected from his numerous plant hunting expeditions abroad through the more recent years.

The photo above is a testament to the history and maturity of the garden. A tree has fallen down many years ago and rather than being cleared away, the trunk was left in situ for other plants to grow on to. A couple of saplings managed to thrive on the minimal nutrients from the debris accumulating on the trunk as well as the decaying matter of the trunk itself, with roots slowly descending on to the ground. And once the roots reached the soil the growth rates will have sped up to become huge trees themselves. Eventually all of the dead trunk will rot away and what will be left are just hollows at the base of these trees. A great illustration of the cycle of life in this woodland garden!

The garden contains an amazing collection of towering Scheffleras as well as other araliads,  most of which the original material he collected himself from previous expeditions whilst others were from other plant collectors, including Edward Needham who was his company on a few of these plant hunting trips
Schefflera species
Schefflera rhododendrifolia growing against a house wall
Schefflera taiwaniana
Schefflera taiwaniana with Gaz for scale
Schefflera species
Schefflera species
Possibly the tallest Schefflera in the UK? If not then it certainly is the tallest I've ever seen growing in the UK! The photo below still betrays the true scale of this specimen. It is very tall, easily reaching a height of 40 to 50 feet and we found it difficult to look for a place to be able to photograph this plant in it's entirety. So we took it in three sections and pieced together later on. So given their ideal conditions, some Scheffleras can attain majestic heights too in Northern Europe.

Schefflera species
And the garden has loads of Fatsia poycarpas too
Fatsia polycarpa leaf
Apart from the Scheffleras and various other araliads the garden is full of other wonderful and unique plants of exotic origins, most of which are rare and not easily found anywhere else in the UK. The following plants especially caught our eye:

Rhododendron protistum
Acer wardii
Dracophyllum traversii
Puya chilensis, one of the very few xerophytes thriving in the woodland
Magnolia macrophylla leaf
Cornus omeiense - I love the habit and grace of this plant and definitely on our wishlist. It has the look the of a Ficus benjamina which is a common houseplant and too tender to be grown outside in the UK. But for gardeners like us looking for hardier substitutes for that exotic look then this is perfect.
Aesculus wilsonii
Alangium platanifolium
Quercus skinneri - a gorgeous oak with unusual leaves and attractive colours to the new leaves. Another plant I would like to to have soon
No doubt we will be back again soon, to enjoy the wonderful plant treasures of Tregrehan, and enjoy the serene and ethereal atmosphere of this great garden.

Tregrehan Garden


  1. I can see why you would go back, it's beautiful and peaceful there. Plus there is so much to see that you would see something new each time.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Blimey, I've never even heard of Tregrehan! I can almost hear the two of you whimpering with excitement as you scampered about. "Self sown Dicksonia antarcticas" - how amazing is that? On my list of gardens to visit definitely.


  3. I can see why you love it so much. One to add to our list for when we eventually get down there to visit.

  4. Another exquisite Cornish garden. There's no end to the wonders Cornwall has to offer. I want to go back soon to catch all the things we missed on our previous trip. Thank you for sharing these incredible gardens with us!


    P.S. I had no idea schefflerias can get that tall!

  5. I lost track of all the names and pictures I wanted to comment on. So many amazing plants, it makes me happy to know the owner is out there in the garden too, getting things done. What a lucky fellow.

  6. Hi Mark and Gaz, I just have rediscovered your blog and I am so happy that I did. What an outstanding post about the Tregrehan Garden you have written. It has blown me away. This is one of the most beautiful and interesting gardens I have seen in a long time! To me it is unbelievable that it can be maintained with such a small staff. Thanks for featuring this gorgeous garden on your blog and sharing it this way. I will become a follower of your blog right now so that I don't loose you, again ;-)!

  7. I wonder if they'd like anyone to come and live with them - not to do anything . . . just to hang around and walk through the woods.

  8. Looks like a wonderful place indeed. Absolutely amazing that one family has been able to keep ad develop the property for such a long time.

  9. Hi Cher,it's a really lovely place and I feel our photos don't do it enough justice. Best seen in person :)And the photos in the post are just a tiny fraction of ones we've taken on all of our visits.

    David, glad you liked it! There's something extra special indeed when you hear a garden has self sown Dicksonias, indicating its maturity and mildness. You must visit when you get the chance!

    Definitely Libby :) And they have a little plant sales area too!

    Cornwall is calling you and your family again Gerhard! And yes you must visit this garden. I must say I never knew either that Scheffleras can attain such heights in the UK until I visited this garden!

    Glad you like it Loree! The owner now is lucky to have such a place, and the garden is lucky that the new owner is a plantsman too :)

    Pleased to hear that Christina, and thank you for the lovely words :) Glad you rediscovered us and hopefully you'll continue to enjoy our blog!

    Esther, they would be delighted but not long term nor in the same house as where the family lives :) They have cottages for rent in the vicinity and guests can enjoy staying within the lovely grounds.

    College Gardener, same here, I find it fascinating and amazing that the property has remained in the same family for generations, and still owned by a plantsman too! A great place!

  10. Oh, how I wish I were in closer proximity to Cornwall - the gardens are incredibly beautiful. I love all of your photographs, one of my favorites being the gate between the Walled Garden and the Woodland Glade.

  11. Cornish gardens are renowned for being some of the best in the world, and this garden is no exception. That gate photo does entice you to wander in :)


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