|Amongst the ivy and sycamore you can just glimpse the summer house roof|
|Derelict but basically intact - one venerable academic could remember marking exams within its leafy seclusion many years ago!|
|The bones of the rock garden show through the undisturbed leafmould|
One year, I finally applied for a grant to refurbish the woodland, with the general thought that I'd reduce the sycamore and add some native tree species. Volunteers from the Friends of University Park wanted to get involved and started one Saturday, slowly clearing the undergrowth. In many places there was between 30-60cm (1-2ft) of dense leafmould, an accumulation of many years! Underneath, we found beautiful sandstone paths, steps and rocky outcrops. The volunteers were ecstatic - their own Heligan!
|Volunteers at work|
|It was quite exciting shoveling away the leafmould and seeing where the paths and steps went|
The grant was approved and spent on tree surgeons, who arrived with buzzing chainsaws and a roaring woodchipper that rapidly cleared the sycamore growth of many years, revealing a bare hillside and the bones of an enormous rock garden. Initially it looked a huge raw wound on the landscape and generated lots of comment, not all complimentary! At that point the University 'authorities' demanded an explanation for my arboricultural vandalism and a management plan for the area.
By then we had realised, with somewhat mixed feelings that simply planting as a native woodland would not work and that the rock garden we had exposed needed to be restored in some way. The Friends enthusiasm escalated and together with student volunteers, they continued to methodically clear the paths and expose the rocky steps and features. My staff, seeing an enormous maintenance demand in the future were, at that stage, less enthusiastic! (another one of Cookey's hare-brained schemes!)
|The trees come down and the hillside is revealed|
|The rock garden can be clearly seen|
Another grant from the University Development Office enabled us to go ahead and restore the beautiful little summer house with its curved roof and timber shingles. The summer house must originally have had doors and windows but we made the decision to restore it just as an open shelter and without seats. Students have been known to have parties and 'other activities' in secluded areas and this we did not want to encourage! Since I left, the Friends have installed a seat in the summer house and I have to admit it's a lovely vantage point to sit and gaze!
|The summer house is restored|
|A year passes while we spray off the weeds and get the soil clean before planting|
We planted up the rock garden in stages over two winters. To be correct, this should have been planted with thousands of small alpine plants, requiring hours of skilled maintenance which was not possible. Instead we chose compact shrubs and low growing herbaceous perennials which would thrive with low maintenance. Enriching the soil was not necessary as all the planting pockets already had a generous supplement of leafmould. Small bulbs were added for spring colour.
|Planting complete but immature - still lots of interest|
|The planting is now well established|
|Colourful shrubs and herbaceous perennials|
|Spring colour round the summer house|
|Heathers for winter colour and groundcover|
|The remains of the sycamore stumps are now decaying gracefully into the planting|
|The nearby Lenton Firs as it is today|
|Worthless and incomplete but she was once very graceful!|
Over the years, the rock garden has settled down to be quite a feature within the University landscape. The staff saw its potential and care for it with great pride. One feature remained derelict, the small cascade that ran through the garden to a pool at the edge. This structure was curious, being made of some composition, possibly Pulhamite. This was a unique cement like mixture that was manufactured and used by James Pulham and Sons who created numerous garden features and buildings in the late 19C and early 20C. Sadly this could not be verified. Just before my retirement five years ago I approached the Director of Estates, requesting cash to restore this as my parting shot and he agreed, so finally the pool was sealed, a pump installed and the cascade flows again after being silent for probably 70 years.
|Remains of the original plumbing tucked inside a false rock shell, the inside of which you can see.|
|The restored pool|
|The cascade runs once again|
Not exactly the Lost Gardens of Heligan but nevertheless a restoration project I was proud to be involved with. It is good to see that the interest continues and that the Friends have cleared a further area of the old rock garden for replanting. As for me, although I no longer have to worry about budgets, maintenance, weeds and the workers, I would still love to know who built this ambitious garden and when?
|Garden restoration continues spring 2013|