Friday, July 6, 2012


The last garden visited on my Cornish trip last week was Tregrehan. (Pronounced Tregahn) This is a tricky one to describe and not the highlight of my week. This is basically a huge plant collection developed since the late 19C over the bones of a Nesfield Garden. Much of the late 20C planting was done by Gillian Carlyon until her death in 1987, when in a fairy story manner, the estate was inherited by Tom Hudson, a distant New Zealand relative. Tom not only settled in the UK at Tregrehan but succumbed to the fatal attraction of plants and gardens. He has continued to develop the plant collection, including some of his own introductions from his plant hunting expeditions.

A walk in the sunken garden area
So why didn't I like Tregrehan? As a plant collection it excels and has links with Kew Gardens as well as being on the English Heritage list of outstanding gardens. However plant labeling is very hit and miss. Labeling is a massive job even when the identities of plants are known but searching around amongst the lush vegetation on a wet June day for illusive labels taxes even the keenest of gardeners! Also as a 'garden' it is limited. There is a formal walled garden with some borders and a wonderful old range of lean-to greenhouses but there is little by way of design and few of the plants are grown in borders in association with others. Most are grown botanic garden style as individual specimens in grass. This does however show the true shape and height of a plant without close competition.

Double row or Cornus capitata (?) in the walled garden - see the mist - it was a very damp day!

Leaving the walled garden

The sunken garden - originally a rose garden, strangley with a group of plastic flowers in one corner!

Plants appeal to me on a visual and horticultural level rather than an academic basis. I'm not really interested or impressed by a plant's rarity, although something unusual or different will always catch my eye. A good garden plant should be attractive, whether it be colour, texture or form, flower or foliage and possibly have a great perfume or even be touchy feely! Seeing plants in a garden situation, where they are mixed with others and fulfilling a purpose in the garden's design is satisfying to me. Out of the thousands at Tregrehan, the following caught my attention on a wet June afternoon.

Fatsia polycarpa - wonderful foliage

Hoheria lyallii

Rhododendron pacetum giving a touch of colour on a dreary day
Carpenteria californica

Rhododendron - who know's what - but I just loved the dramatic foliage!

Hydrangea quercifolia showing its natural form - an excellent garden plant

Puya berteroni - one of the highlights of the afternoon for me but the thorns in this plant make it one of the most vicious thugs in the plant world - handle with great care!

Schefflera taiwanense
The whole plant - said to be one of the hardiest of this species and I bought a plant to try in the Midlands

I loved its curious branch structure
Schizophragma hydrangeoides - growing up tree trunks
Abelia floribunda

Trocadendron araliodes
And some plants that caught my eye but remain anonymous - just couldn't find the labels and can't identify - maybe Chad or some other reader can ID them for me?

Great association between this dark leaved Hydrangea and the familiar Stachys
No ideas - someone help me?

Another delicate and very garden-worthy Hydrangea

Great glossy red foliage - ideas?

Some dramatic bark - is it a Luma or a Eucalyptus - can't locate a leaf pic so tricky one!

At a glance leaves rather like Viburnum rhytidophyllum but smaller - ideas?
There did seem to be several missed opportunities. The entrance to the garden passes through some ruined, roofless buildings which were virtually empty. Such a wonderful opportunity for some small cameo gardens as an introduction to the wider landscape to follow. The huge conservatory has a real air of neglect despite being in excellent condition from major restoration in the 1990's. The planting is sporadic with many gaps, poor labeling and no interpretation. It looked generally unloved but what potential, even if unheated.

There is mention of a nursery but its not marked on the plan and I didn't find it. Despite my criticisms, it was a pleasant afternoon and many thanks to Chad for introducing me to an unknown garden. If you are a serious plantsperson and willing to spend time working at plant identification, this is a fantastic collection of plants but for those looking for visual Cornish gardens, there are many others far easier to appreciate. To be fair, if you are looking for a feast of colour, this garden contains many camellias and rhododendrons and would no doubt score highly in the early months of the year, without the need for a degree in botanical latin!


  1. What wonderful compositions, not to mention plants that are being grown. The Puya is something I really admire, but this time of year, all that thick mist and fog looks so nice...cloudy most of the day here, today. I hear you on plants appealing on a visual or horticultural appeal, though geography grabs my interest, too.

  2. very nice pictures. the plant with the nice bark that looked kind of like a eucalyptus is most likely luma apiculata (aka myrtus luma) from chile.

  3. Hi Ian,

    Sorry I’ve been a bit tardy in feeding in some ID’s.

    Living in the country is wonderful until you need infrastructure. I have been ‘offline’ and at the mercy of BT for what feels like a month but was probably only a week or two!

    It is funny how different people ‘experience’ a garden.

    Tregrehan has escaped its rather ‘blowsy’ Cornish Spring Valley Garden style and returned to a wilder and earlier phase. Read it not as a botanic garden, but as a modern interpretation of the ‘wild garden’ style preached by William Robinson [though he would have had overflowing herbaceous borders nearer the house]. The maturity of many of the large trees shows that this is a resurrection of the style and not a ‘new’ departure.

    Mark and Gaz seem to have visited a different garden to you!

    I think the key is to be aware that you have been let in to a private family garden; it is not maintained to please the visitors.

    Labelling is actually better than most if you have been given ‘the key’; labels are on the north of each plant! Knowing that makes looking for them much easier! John who I went round with takes encyclopaedic photos’ Picture; picture of the label. Picture; picture of the label and so on. I only had to write down three names that Tom the proprietor gave us when we couldn’t find a label. Inevitably though some of the things that have taken your fancy to post didn’t catch John’s and so weren’t photo’d; with or without an ID.

    Taking the ID’s in the order of your posts.

    The Rhododendron is ‘large leafed seedling’ a volunteer in the garden of unknown parent I think.

    ‘No ideas - someone help me?’ If that was the magnificent free standing shrub in the walled garden it is a seed introduction from China of a Hydrangea. I didn’t note the collector’s number and John thinks we were told it hasn’t been assigned to a species yet.

    ‘Another delicate and very garden-worthy Hydrangea’ Another collectors number Hydrangea.

    ‘Great glossy red foliage - ideas?’ Was that just outside of the walled garden? If so I thought it was a species Camellia and it wasn’t! Again John didn’t photograph it and I didn’t write it down. It was in the Theaceae and was a genus I didn’t know, but I’ve had a look through the possibilities and none ring a bell now. I really should take notes!

    ‘Some dramatic bark’. I agree Luma.

    I don’t know the last one and I think the atmospheric mist got the picture out of focus so I can’t see enough detail to ‘work it out’; sorry.

    ‘The planting is sporadic with many gaps, poor labelling and no interpretation. It looked generally unloved but what potential, even if unheated.’ No interpretation because it is a private garden. Labels in the glass house were fewer than outside, I think fewer of the inside plants are Tom’s own introductions, or, especially in the shaded [back] glass house the ID’s are not yet clear. I loved it that the first bit of the glass house you walk into is his vegetable patch!

    I’m glad you had a better time at the nurseries though.


  4. "No idea" is very like the new variety Hydrangea aspera "Hot Chocolate", brown young leaves and pink flowers. However, not of wild origin as far as I know, originally from Maurice Foster in Kent.