The lost Gardens of Heligan – Cornwall UK

A Magnificent Garden not just re-discovered and  restored – but actually brought back to life

Recently I borrowed from the Queanbeyan library the book – Lost Gardens of Heligan by Tim Smit.1999 Victor Gollancz.As you know I am originally and still am a horticulturist so books and stories like this get the green blood stirring.

This is the story of one of the great gardens of Cornwall England how it lapsed into deep slumber and ruin post WWI then to be resurrected decades later in 1990.
Originally it was the country estate garden held in the Tremayne family for many generations. The family had the finances to support the staff needed to run this enterprise and it produced most of their food.

The Author Tim Smit who inspired, managed and drove much of the work when asked what was the driving force for the incredible energy and commitment he had for the garden surprisingly replied Redemption.
In reading the book you can see he means redemption of the garden, the past horticultural knowledge, the plants growing there, the local community and of the people involved at all level’s present day and past. I highly recommend the book to read – own – borrow – Heart-warming stories of the work and workers involved, its resurrection and plenty of photos to show the magnitude of the task before them.

Especially moving are the individual workers their roles and personal stories of how the garden gave them challenges and achievements that changed their life.
The garden basically went asleep after the First World War due to the massive loss of life among the enlisted men and the changed economic circumstances for the country. WWI near bankrupted the country despite victory. There was not the staff or the finances to keep the estate at its former levels. In a way this was a blessing as the garden was preserved under layers of subsequent overgrowth, seedling trees, brambles etc until rediscovered.

Other such gardens had suffered successive redesigns and clearing until none of the original design and structure existed at all. Whole areas of the garden were left to rot and molder as resources could not maintain them anymore. The early regeneration works at the garden sound almost like an archaeological excavation.

In its original state there were specific glasshouses for growing melons – peaches – grapes – and pineapples. Large areas of garden were specifically designed for vegetables and flowers. The restoration brought all of this back – the plant varieties the cultivation techniques and the structures. The great difference at Heligan from other period gardens is that the production techniques of the garden were reinstated and kept alive.

Currently it has a staff of 50 people which gives you an indication of how large this garden is. Curiously Tim Smit remarks that the staffing structure now is very close to that of the original estate.

I want to share with you some quotes from Tim Smit at the end of the book where he explains the value of the garden to us.

“An issue that confronts all who work with Heritage of any kind is that once a period becomes history, its visible remains become little more than monuments, leaving us the inheritors to interpret them from the perspective of our time”

“Heligan treasures the physical remains of its past but lays a heavy emphasis on exploring old working methods and approaches to Horticulture to discover where they can make a contribution to improving modern practices”

“In simple terms Heligan wants to protect that which is good about the past, its crops and methods of husbandry that have truly stood the test of time, and thus should have a role to play in the future.”

Linking this back to Herbal Medicine the phrase above could easily relate to the written record of past Herbalists and Homeopaths. Finding a great work from yesteryear be it 10 or 20 or 30 or 100+ years past, reading these works and appreciating their experience. Not all that is modern is comprehensive or encompassing of the totality of knowledge. Herbal Medicine being an ancient profession especially treasures past practitioners and the foundations they laid for us.

Anyway find the book or have a look on YouTube with the many garden videos there to get sense of the magnitude and splendor of the place.

Can you feel the power of this garden which in a book from the other side of the world inspires and lifts up our days!

P.S. Whilst the gardens benefited enormously from a range of grants and training programs it is now fully self sufficient financially and supports a full time staff of 50 people from gate takings alone.

P.S.S. In case you thought this is only a one hit wonder – Tim Smit then went on to found a team that created and established the Eden project. This is two enormous geodesic domes in Cornwall built on an abandoned clay pit that have inside a rain forest and Mediterranean plant environments.

Here is quote from the website of the Eden Project that sums up what it is all about

Eden is proud of its success in changing people’s perception of the potential for and the application of science, by communicating and interpreting scientific concepts through the use of art, drama and storytelling as well as living up to its mission to take a pivotal role in local regeneration. It demonstrates once and for all that sustainability is not about sandals and nut cutlets, it is about good business practice and the citizenship values of the future.

Google that one up after Heligan and boggle your brain – I dare you!

Oh and by the way it is Sir Tim Smit now being knighted in 2012 by the Queen.


Tim Smits background was in Music being a promoter for both rock music acts and Opera. No gardening or science degrees – Born in Holland he also worked as a County archaeologist prior to the music business.


The power of plants – definitely one for the Library bucket list

Headline photograph

By Edwinb [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Bottom photograph

By Rob Young from United Kingdom (Giant’s Head / The Lost Gardens of Heligan) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons