Cornwall Collection Part 2

The second and concluding part of the EPS trip to Cornwall in the south west of England. More than just palms.
Boy Clarke, 'Ganneymede', 4 Daw Wood, Bentley, Doncaster, DN5 OPU, U.K.
Chamaerops No.28 Autumn 1997

Butia capitata in Penzance, south west England

Across the road we were welcomed into the garden of a residential nursing home! Not a place for exotics? Wrong. Amongst the desirables were hardy Opuntias padding out along the base of one of the house walls. For some inexplicable reason I forgot to record the wealth of planting present for which I profusely apologise. Sadly the only other plant I can remember at the nursing home was a deceased Washingtonia.

The afternoon visit was to Trebab Gardens where we had been assured of bountiful exotics in a most tranquil setting. We were not to be disappointed.

My first and indeed lasting impression was of a Xanthorrea australis 'the black boy of the outback' or Grass Tree, ridiculously rare and prohibitively expensive when found. Trebah's specimen even sported the fire blackened trunk whence its name, and seemed in fine fettle. The view down the ravine was breathtaking being littered with palms, bamboos, tree ferns and some such. This area sports arguably the largest i.e. tallest three specimens of T.fortunei on the mainland. They do indeed rise Everest-like from the accompanying planting. Before starting the descent you are aware that this is a garden that refuses to slip into horticultural senility as everywhere there are signs of new additions. Around the top pool for instance were fresh plantings of Butia capitata.

As you wend your way downwards you are enveloped in a symphony of well-disciplined but lush planting that covers the ground, at once exuberant but nonetheless still secondary to the main players. A good pointer here that the 'Exotic' garden can include relatively mundane flowering herbaceous plants. Hostas, Primulas and the like are valid components, I know 'cos I've seen them at Trebab! Incidently Trebah has a very well stocked nursery and if you're lucky an Alladin's cave of Agaves and suchlike, all the more reason for going!

Tuesday.

A lazy and relatively late start to the proceedings as we were all making our own way to the cometary at St.Mawes. Talk was of the few dozen mature Trachies present. For few dozen read 70+ (yes, seventy plus) - from new plantings 2ft tall to specimens well up into the tree canopies. They are spread far and wide and in good sized groups. A sight not to be missed.

From the palm bedecked churchyard we beaded to lunch and then to Lammorran House. Two (?) acres of garden in the Italian style. Two acres of unadulterated exotica.

The St. Mawes peninsula is reputedly the mildest part of mainland Britain. Frost rarely shows its ugly tendencies and yet last winter saw temperatures drop as low as -16C. Despite these ravages the garden was in good heart. We were told that there were something in the region of 20 palm species. The few that follow should whet your appetite - Butia capitata, B.yatay, Sabal bermudiana, Trachycarpus fortunei, T.'Temple', Washingtonia filifera Arecastrum (now Syagrus) and Jubaea chilensis Other plants of interest at Lammorran include large specimens of Agave americana, smaller ones (naturally) of agave parryi parryi, A.a.'variegata'. Aloe arborescens, A.saponaria, A.ferox and A.glauca all seemingly untouched by the winter. Yucca aloifolia, Y.whipplei, Puya sp: Fascicularia, Beschorneria (in flower) and Proteas. Here I have to admit to disappointment as the plants were miserable. But they were relatively new and had had to endure the extremes of the previous winter. With a little luck they should get away and then they'll be worth writing about. Cycas revoluta permanently planted outside! It was here, and enjoying life. There were more; many more, indeed Lammorran House gardens would justify an article in its own right.

One of the noticeable things about this garden aside of the planting and architecture was the intimacy. You were never aware that this garden was 2 acres in extent, such was its layout. Paths were just wide enough for you to pass, borders were accessible, and the planting had a comfortable 'touchy-feely' presence about them. Aspects that are sometimes sadly lacking in the majority of gardens open to the public. Here was a garden that had undoubtedly been designed; but with the guiding hand of a gardener who understands the needs of a plant collector.

Wednesday.

First visit of the day was to Trevanna Cross nurseries. A 'sweet shop' bursting at the scenes with the 'right stuff'. What to choose? We left with amongst others a Dicksonia squarrosa, Lomatia myricioides and a Mellaleuca squarrosa All destined to be tested in our garden in Yorkshire. As I write the Dicksonia is sporting about a dozen new fronds and is looking simply divine. Other members emptied their wallets and stuffed their cars with assorted goodies. The scenes were something akin to a shark's feeding frenzy. Incidently I would at this juncture like to thank the staff for their time, patience, knowledge etc.

We left Trevannah in a happy but much poorer state (money wise) and headed for St. Michaels Mount. Here indeed is a conundrum. On the landward side you would be excused for thinking that this is just another National Trust garden with relatively common plants unimaginatively dotted about with little or no coherence but venture behind the scenes and WOW! What a difference a little bit of sun makes. Succulents of all shapes and sizes pressed their claim. Agaves seemingly growing out of bare rock were immense, Aloe sp: showed to good effect their diverse foliage and forms.

Capacious clumps of Puya alpestris threw up their other-worldly candelabras of aquamarine flowers. It was hard at times to comprehend that this was indeed the British mainland. Beschorneria threw its Medusan flower spikes every which way and aloes, more than you could ever wave a palm frond at, decorated the cliff sides closely associated with a dolly mixture of exotic mesems: with flowers of magenta, cerise, gold.

Vast clumps of fascicularia adorned the rocks. Because of the tempering effect of the sea here plants grow at ridiculous rates and nothing shows this phenomenon more than the fact that a few of us departed from the Mount with pieces of Fascicularia pitcairnifolia that were otherwise destined for the compost heap. If you enjoy succulents in whatever guise then this is the garden for you.

Lunch beckoned on the mainland and afterwards a visit to another 'exotic' nursery to unload some more of our 'folding stuff'.

There had to be one disappointment to help keep our feet on the ground and this was it. Hardy Exotics. It would be better named Mildly Neurotic. If plants were for sale they were not named or priced, if they weren't for sale then the reverse was true. Some plants that were named but then you were informed that the name was wrong. Question: if you have 24 members of the European Palm Society visiting your nursery (prearranged) why would you put up so many barriers making sure that their wallets stay closed and their memories are negative?

Thankfully we had another visit to round off the evening thus ensuring we ended on a high. This was to E.P.S member Dr Rob Senior's garden. As ever, individual members' gardens more than hold their own. Atop the garage of all places is a greenhouse stuffed to bursting with cacti and succulents. Outside of this, descending the steps into the garden proper is a fine clump of the Chatham Island forget-me-not Myosotidium hortensia. Some of the desirables that I can remember are Jubaea chilensis, Yucca thompsoniana, Banksia marginata, Pseudopanax 'Trident' and 'Sabre', there were others. Pittosporum dallii or was it ralphii or were there both? Undoubtedly there were more palms and more yuccas and more half hardies. A good couple of hours passed too quickly helped along by our two good hosts, copious pourings of tea, and delicious home-made cake. We slept well that night.

Thursday.

The highlight of the week. This was the day we went to Tresco. Up and away early to make sure we got the longest amount of time on this blessed isle. My memory has erased all knowledge of the helicopter trip though the word nauseous does spring to mind. Twenty minutes from Penzance lies Heaven. We were greeted off the Helicopter by our guide who was to all intents and purposes one of the gardeners, that is one of the idiosyncrasies of Tresco; not only are the gardeners gardeners but also guides and aircraft controllers. Must look good on the C.V!

First sightings of the gardens are impressive to say the least. Relatively common plants grow just like topsy; to such proportions. Everywhere you look are plants gorged on the excesses of the gulf stream. Such is the healing powers of this ridicolously equitable climate that the ravages of past winters are only apparent if you know where to look or have visited before in lusher times. For a first time visitor, all is paradise found. But what of the plants?

First the palms, Phoenix canariensis lording it over the lower plantings, Butia capitata, Brahea armata, Jubaea chilensis Washingtonia sp: and Rhopalostylis sapida are the ones I remember. Then high up on the top terraces the Proteas including longifolia, repens, lanceolata and nenifolia. Some were still hanging on with their last flowers, others were turning their attention to seed production. Other notable members of the proteacea were Dryandra formosa, Hakea squarrosa, Banksia integrifolia and Leuacadendron argenteum, the fabled Silver Tree and silver it undeniably is. Other shrubs of note include Calothamnus pinifolius (a member of the myrtacea family) and some South African heaths such as Erica hebecalyx and E. discolor. All around was plant after plant that previously had just been a name in book. Kungea banksii, a callistemon look-alike in leaf and flower, Agathis australis and Greyia radlkolferi. In the lawns at the base of the terraces was a Metrosodiros kermadecencis 'variegata', I would doubt if there are any other specimens of this treasure around.

Recently installed is a Mediterranean garden planted along relatively formal lines it is in direct contrast to the other parts of Tresco. The centre piece is a raised stone pool with the most exquisite fountain imaginable - a sculpted three dimensional model of Agave ferox Leading off from this garden you then wander through what could be called light woodland. Here tree ferns resided including Cyathea medullaris, its immensely fibrous black trunks and stems adorned by leathery dark green fronds. I wonder how it would respond to a Yorkshire garden? Here is where the greatest number of Rhopalostylis sapida specimens are found. Seedlings perhaps! Pittosporum tobira wafted its honey scent through here suggesting that it could take a bit of shade, another plant of interest that was threading its way up one of the dividing walls through other climbers was a Bomarea sp: with trusses of bell flowers; pink on the outside, orange within, heavily spotted in red. Sumptuous.

On Tresco even the weeds were desirable. The Scilly Island Cabbage is an Aeonium sp. and is rampant. Some weed. Likewise the dandelions. Here they come from the Canary Isles in the form of Sonchus congestus. There were many many more plants of worth, you could write reams and still not get it all in. A visit is what's needed, a vacation would be better, a job would be to die for. Sadly visits come to an end, and whether high on the garden's influence or the cider I even semienjoyed the flight back to Penzance.

Friday.

Heligan. An all day one this. You will have seen it on TV no doubt. As garden restorations go this one takes the biscuit. The Italian garden is a model of restraint planting-wise though if they listen to the E.P.S. members the colossal Phoenix they have recently acquired from Italy would find a home here. There was talk of removing an imposing Euphorbia mellifera because of its size. In one word; don't . Out into the garden proper is that queen of Cordylines - Cordyline indivisa Oh how we marvelled at the seeming ease with which they grow in South West Cornwall. Incidently exotic plant buffs, if you think the indivisas are stunning in England's last county then you should travel to Logan in South West Scotland. There they are simply to die for.

The Cordyline indivisas got everyone excited so much so there are now at least a dozen planted out in The North. Five in my garden for starters. I am working on the premise that the more you plant the greater the chances of success. Well you have to be optimistic. Thanks Steve and Helen.

Down in the 'Jungle' tree ferns; Dicksonia antarctica have naturalised to a ridiculous extent. They are everywhere in numbers unimaginable. So at home are they that there are even specimens with epithetic rhododendrons on their trunks.The Bamboos also. Phyllostachys 'Castillonensis' springs to mind. Golden canes with emerald stripes in clumps, no, swathes, of immense proportions. Although this could not realistically be described as an exotic garden it is one to see if only for the Dicksonias. The future may see more exotic planting introduced, let 's hope so.

And so it was sadly the end of a fabulous 5 days where we were privy to the great and the good the large and the small and apart from the hiccup on Wednesday afternoon a week of nothing but good memories. Our thanks go out to all the garden owners and guides who gave of their time and knowledge so unselfishly.

I know I speak for everyone when I say a heartfelt 'thank you' to Richard for his time and undoubted effort in making the week such a success.

 

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