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Cornwall Collection

A trip down to the U.K's south-west corner, to Cornwall, for a tour of some of England's most famous and palmy gardens. Richard Darlow organizes, Roy Clarke records. Part two follows in the next edition.
Roy Clarke, S.Yorks, UK
Chamaerops No.27 Summer 1997

Left: Dasylirion sp., Fox Rose Hill Gardens
Right: Agave americana, St. Michales Mount

Over the last two or three years I have (through the articles in 'Chamaerops') travelled the world. Enjoying free access to gardens, (private and public) whilst benefiting from the wealth of knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm of other E.P.S members.

Of course after reading the diverse and always interesting articles you then want to meet some of the people involved in this mad world. After all anyone who bankers after growing Grevillea in Godalming or Musa in Manchester is not going to be dull are they?

So when E.P.S member Richard Darlow had the grand idea of a Cornish get together in May that would include visits to gardens great and small, public and private, I, like many others, had no hesitation in signing on the dotted line.

That done, then comes the daunting bit meeting 30 palm nuts in one go. No worries as other signatories to the 'tour' will undoubtedly attest. After all you have one thing in common from the off - the love of exotica. It really is a great way of forging new friendships and renewing old ones.

As a footnote to this long winded (for which I apologise) intro: you might be interested in the fact that attendees of the tour had an age range from 4 years old (birthday enjoyed at Ileligan) to I would suppose 50+. And at the end of the week all agreed on one thing.. .We must do it again! for which I do believe Richard has again volunteered his services!

Anyhow you want to read about the tour, the gardens, the plants, the people.. .the weather!

For Christine, myself and our children it kicked off on the Saturday with a visit to E.P.S member Phillipe Byrne's abode in Exeter. Phillipe had kindly extended an open invitation to all members should they wish to 'pop in'. We did and kicked off the week magnificently.

Phillipe bas travelled widely and this shows in his garden as apart from the exuberance of the front garden where everything is shoe horned in to what amounts to a relatively small space he has imaginatively planted other parts in a more cosmopolitan, nay foreign, way. The front garden sports a dozen or more Trachies, large and small. The tallest I would hazard a guess is at least 12ft. Many of them were flowering heavily at the time of our visit. Keeping the palms company was an assortment of rarely encountered shrubs. Two that spring to mind are Olearia paniculata and punica granatum, (the hardy pomegranite).The Olearia is a good one on which to test your friends as it closely resembles Pittosporum tenuifolium, a bit greyer and not as glossy in leaf perhaps with a distinct absence of the Pittosporum's black stems but at first glance you could be fooled.

Leaving the front garden you enter the next through a 'Roman arch' that Phillipe has constructed. Indeed the architecture is as riveting as the planting. In this middle garden Phillipe has delightfully planted Washingtonias outside. Suggesting that with careful thought as to size, siting and protection, more palm species could be grown al fresco! You then enter the palm house and I mean palm house. This is a garden building of Herculean proportions - 60ft x 20ft. within which are housed a good selection of palms. chief amongst which being Trithrinax acanthocoma, Brahea armata and relatives, a glorious Waggie, a 'silver' Chamaerops and a Rhapis excelsa Dominating a large proportion of the planting area is a large, variegated Agave americana. My memory recalls it being as tall as I. A small area of the palm house has been sectioned to house a collection of ferns: Blechnum, Woodwardia, Davalia etc.

After refreshments and party games with the children we headed out to the back garden which seems destined to becoming a bamboo grove as there were new plantings of some rather tremendous specimens. None of the rather weak Arundinarias here thank you very much. Sadly I cannot enlighten you on the species/varieties present as I omitted to record them, being somewhat struck dumb by THE garden statue. Framed on one one side by an Arbutus unedo 'Rubra'. This is a statue of immensity and would not be to everyone's liking, however it feels so at home here divorced by centuries and thousands of miles from its 'Easter island' home! There were many other plants of note that I have undoubtedly missed but what I have hopefully given you is a flavour of Phillipe's garden and, more importantly, a desire to go see for yourselves.

After Phillipe's, we then travelled down to Falmouth, (where the tour was to be centred) to unpack, hit the local beach and later on that evening to recce the residential areas for any plants of an architectural or exotic bent. Never having been to this part of Cornwall before I was unsure of what, if anything was about. On the coastal walk from our chalet to Falmouth itself Carprobrotus edulis and C rosea hung in sheets down the cliffs, whilst Scilla peruviana enticed and Gladiolus byzantinus shone in all its magenta glory. But what I really wanted was big, bold, brash, exciting, challenging, stop you in your tracks, assuage the senses type planting and I found it. Musas (variety unknown) five foot tall (in May) seemingly unprotected. Cunninghamia, Catalpas b. 'Aurea', Eucalyptus, Bamboos in variety and the occasional Eryobotria japonica, the Japanese Loquat. The list was endless though it has to be said that the majority of suburban gardens sported planting little more imaginative than what can be found the length and breadth of the country. Reassuring in some ways!

Sunday was a free day as the tour started officially on the Monday morning. So we did touristy type things before hitting the bar of the local hotel in the evening where the majority of the members were staying. The air was a real pea -souper of expectation. liberally doused with juice of grape, hop and apple, the hours passed unnoticed.

Monday a.m.

The week's first visit beckoned: Fox-Rosehill gardens, Falmouth.

The entrance to this important garden is in the process of being upgraded, consequently it does not wear its clothes too well at present, save for the imposing presence of an Agave americana, a statuesque 6ft+ Yucca (treculeana?) (I would be pleased to hear from anyone if this is not the case) and a clump of not insubstantial Nolina This trio hinting at something special. Inside you are transported into the realms of make believe.

Azara m. 'variegata' shone jewel-like. Embothrium stunned with its flamboyant scarlet blooms. Not far away was Crinodendron hookeri from South America and Cercis siliquastron, the Judas Tree of folklore.

What now follows is a list of the more important plantings in Fox-Rosehill be they trees, shrubs or herbaceous. Space does not permit the inclusion of all, my memory will omit many more but you are still left with a mouthwatering array of delectables. Palms included Phoenix canariensis, the indomitable Trachies. Chamaerops Jubaea chilensis, Arecastrum (now Syagrus) romanzoffiana, (damaged but should recover) and a fine fine fine Butia capitata. Apparently the trick is to buy, beg or borrow BIG plants failing this feed well throughout the growing season. Looking at the palms here it certainly seems to work.

Other notable trees were: Acacia dealbata, Lyonothamnus, Laurelia serrata, Gingko biloba and Sophora tetraptera whilst at a lower level Were puya sp: Doryanthes palmeri (though it has to be said that this was a most pitiful specimen), Tussillago farfugineum 'aureo-maculata', Correa backhouseana and Dasylirion sp.

At the rear of the garden is a smallish green house which has on its front aspect a rockery, not it has to be said of anything approaching a grand design but it give home to some less conventional 'rock plants'. The cornerstone was an immense clump of a South American Eryngium (poss: decaisneanum), a few feet away is a substantial Agave americana 'Striata' that has overwintered outside for 4 years with no protection. In a sheltered enclave to the right of the glasshouse were 3 Dicksonia fibrosa and inevitably, more Trachies.

Further into the garden the Grevillea robusta's had seemingly given up the ghost but considering the despicably poor winter Cornwall has just come through plant losses and damage to the garden seemed minimal and our guide was certainly not a man to be put off by the occasional dispatching of a plant to that great compost heap in the sky. The future bodes well indeed for Fox-Rosehill.

Next stop was to the Queen Mary gardens, Falmouth seafront. A public garden which in the hands of most councils would have been savaged with beds of wallflowers and tulips. Here the planting was of Agave celsii, Yucca aloifolia, Kniphophia, Gunnera manicata, Puya sp: and stately Phormiums. A lesson to all local authorities, methinks.

To Be Continued. Next issue: Trebah, St. Mawes, and Tresco, by helicopter!


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