If you are fed up with the winter blues, head down south towards Cornwall for a host of great gardens that are already bursting with spring interest and colour.
Cornwall’s southerly position brings spring much earlier than the rest of the UK to such an extend that the local gardens have actually set up a Bloomometer that tracks not just when the first magnolias are in flower, but where they are too. Last season the 28th February 2017 was declared as the first day of spring by The Nare Hotel in conjunction with the Great Gardens of Cornwall. Officially it’s the day when the nominated, champion magnolias come into full bloom (with at least fifty blooms on each) in six different Cornish gardens. The trees start blooming any time from February onwards, so it’s a really great reason to go garden visiting at this time of year.
Out of season (February and March) and before Easter, you will find some cottage accommodation more affordable and the roads much easier to navigate too, so it’s the perfect time for an early spring break.
There are dozens of great gardens to visit all year round in Cornwall; here are five gardens good ones to get you started:
Mawnan Smith, near Falmouth
This protected valley garden is truly a sub tropical paradise and a must visit on your trip to Cornwall. Packed with fabulous junglesque gunneras emerging from their winter slumber and majestic tree ferns, it’s a foliage paradise. But for spring blossom seekers there’s a wealth of camellias, magnolias, rhododendron and azaleas to make every month a memorable visit. Take the kids and explore the incredible Bamboozle maze that zigzags along the stream.
Allow plenty of time, ideally a long morning, enjoy a hearty breakfast in the Trebah kitchen first or full afternoon and explore the entirety of this magical place right down to where the garden meets the secluded beach on the Helford River. After the long walk down you’ll be glad of a pit stop and from March 1st and during the main season, you can enjoy a coffee or ice cream at the Boathouse on the beach.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Pentewan, St Austell
It’s hard to believe that 25 years ago the gardens at Heligan were unknown and lost under a tangle of weeds. Today they are among the finest gardens in Cornwall and well worth a visit. Apart from the extensive pleasure grounds and woodland, perhaps the most fascinating part of Heligan is the Productive Gardens that act as a living window to the past. It’s a working kitchen garden filled with mostly heritage fruit, vegetables salads and herbs to supply the Heligan Kitchen with fresh, seasonal produce. Among its most interesting features is the working Pineapple Pit, which was heated with manure to produce these exotic fruits for the lord of the manor. If you are feeling adventurous walk down into the woodland and cross the wobbly rope bridge if you dare.
Dogs are welcome, on a lead, so you can trek the grounds with your canine companion and spend a day at these extensive gardens. In spring the fabulous National Collections of Rhododendrons and Camellias are bound to inspire. Look out for the Magnolia campbellii, planted in 1860 and one of the Bloomometer contenders.
Tresco Abbey Gardens
Tresco Island, Scilly Isles
If you can tack a few days onto your Cornwall trip a visit to the Scilly Isles and especially Tresco is a must for every garden lover. Its Abbey Gardens are on most gardening bucket lists and with good reason, but the Islands themselves are a fabulous destination early in the season when the rest of the UK is still shrouded in frost and fog. Book the little plane from Lands End and prepare for a short, exhilarating flight aboard the Skybus or in-season use the ferry service from Penzance. You’ll need to take a boat from St Mary’s to the island of Tresco but the Island Office can arrange the transfers. Once on Tresco the pretty seashore and lush countryside surroundings make for lovely walks. Tresco Abbey is a botanical delight even early in the season. Packed full of plants gleaned from botanical collections worldwide it is an arid landscape of hot rock heated terraces packed with exotic delights of every genus, from aloes and proteas to echiums and agaves luring you to explore higher and deeper into this extraordinary space. If you are lucky you might spot the elusive red squirrels that live in this idyllic garden.
If Tresco Abbey Gardens is on your ‘must visit’ list an overnight (or preferably longer) stay at the Sea Garden Cottages will transform your visit into a trip of a lifetime.
Seek out this private garden in Truro, for its spring delights. It’s a graceful climb illuminated with hellebores, snowdrops and scented narcissi as well as other spring beauties through a woodland walk that flanks the beautiful house. Hellebores are the stars; Wendy Perry grows them from seed and sells them in flower on her popular hellebore day. The clever sloping bank planting provides the perfect view of these nodding flowers. After spring the drama continues to build with the charming walled garden planted in a tapestry of cottage beauties for a summer display and a hot garden with a late summer firework display. Visit for its Hellebore day on Feb 24 2018 (10am to 4pm) or on a Weds, Thurs or Friday only from March to September. In March only the woodland garden is open to visitors. Slightly tricky to find, but well worth the effort.
Bodelva, St Austell
This is the perfect place for an educational day out and an ideal destination on a rainy day where the incredible biomes will shelter you and their botanical inhabitants from the inclement Cornish weather. Better to go on a mixed day so you can appreciate the vast external plantings that flank the twisting paths around the old clay pits joining up the spaces between the biomes. But when the rain starts to fall it’s the exceptional Rainforest Biome and Mediterranean Biome that will capture your imagination and quite literally blow your botanical brain into orbit. It’s not just an educational resource for the kids, there are masses of fascinating facts and info on everything ethno botanical and more and you can’t fail to be wowed by the plants on show. It’s a vast site and a full day barely does it justice. Don’t miss the ethical gift shop and try the menu at the Eden Kitchen.