The Lost Gardens of Heligan

A local restored garden and estate with heritage fruit and vegetables, tropical plants and community at its heart.

GoatsCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 1 - Intro

From farmyard to garden

In 1990, Dutch born record producer, Sir Tim Smit, began a journey to find a piece of land to begin a rare breed farm park with his trusty Vietnamese Pot Belly pigs, Horace and Doris. Little did he know that a few months later, he would begin “Europe’s largest garden restoration project” whilst changing the gardening history books.  
Tim was introduced to local landowner, John Willis. John, a descendant of the Tremayne family, had recently inherited the derelict Heligan estate. 
Tim and John explored the estate with machetes and quickly discovered there could be so much more to Heligan than a rare breeds farm.   

Thirty years on, the 200 acres of gardens and estate at The Lost Gardens of Heligan are some of the most visited gardens in the country much loved by garden explorers, wildlife and plant lovers and garden romantics alike. 

A Garden of Colourful FlowersCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 2

Heligan’s history is framed perfectly by a ‘National Collection of Rhododendrons and Camellias introduced to the gardens pre-1920’. There are more than 70 veteran camellias and 350 ancient rhododendrons included in the collection, which produce the most spectacular spring displays. Riotous red and passionate pink blooms surround the perfectly mown lawn of Flora’s Green, wowing visitors as they approach Heligan’s Victorian Pleasure Grounds.  

Heligan is real gardening inspiration, growing over 300 varieties of heritage fruit and vegetables within its productive gardens, you might discover a variety of beans or apples that you've never heard of and you can always speak to one of gardeners to delve a bit deeper.

The  Heligan Jungle is home to a fantastic collection of exotic species of plants surrounded by some historic Victorian plantings. There is a tree fern in the Jungle believed to be the tallest in the UK, standing at an impressive eight meters tall.

Living SculptureCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 3

A garden that's full of surprises

Heligan is such a unique place which encapsulates everything that we love about gardening. No two days at Heligan are ever the same and no two visits to Heligan are ever the same. Visitors will always see something a little different, whether it be a flower they’ve never heard of, a bird they’d never seen or simply a path that they haven’t discovered before.   We recommend visiting Heligan once every season so you experience the gardens go from bare-bones, frosty mornings all the way through to summer blooms and magical days in the Jungle and through to harvest when we've got hundreds of pumpkins to enjoy.     

Gardren ViewCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Cornwall's own jungle

The Heligan Estate is very lucky in the fact that it's located on the South coast of Cornwall and we do benefit some of the mildest climates in the UK. There are a number of tropical species of plants throughout the gardens which might not survive in the colder climates of let's say, Yorkshire, in the winter. 

Heligan Audio 4

Cornwall's own jungle

There’s also our sub-tropical Jungle, located in its own south facing valley garden, it has its own little microclimate as it benefits from the Gulfstream and south facing position. We can notice that it can be 5 degrees warmer there than anywhere else in the garden and that plants might flower there two weeks earlier than the rest of the gardens. 

Being situated in Cornwall, we’re surrounded by beaches, amazing campsites and other accommodation along with everything you need for the perfect holiday. Thousands of visitors flock to the gardens each year which helps us along our journey of conservation and restoration.

Heligan Audio 5

Some of the most recognisable plants in the Jungle are these gigantic Gunnera plants that look like they’ve come straight from the set of Jurassic Park. You’ll see a lot of Gunnera in Cornwall where it thrives in the slightly warmer climate. There's also the massive tree ferns, the Comish palms, the monkey puzzles, a lot of varieties, you might not see anywhere else, but because of the Tremayne family's connections with the Victorian plant hunters, we've got these really incredible species and we've even got bananas growing down by the Jungle ponds.

Red TomatoesCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 6

Heritage veg you can't get elsewhere

One thing that's really key to Heligan is the fact that we save seeds, this practice ensures the future of many of the 300 varieties of heritage fruit and vegetables that you simply can't buy in the shops anymore. 
The gardeners' have mastered this really essential skill of saving the seeds and they host an annual seed swap so that we don't lose these really special varieties within our community.

Pineapple DisplayCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 7

How to grow a Victorian pineapple

Back in Victorian times, being able to grow pineapples all year round in England was a mighty impressive task and was another way in which the Victorians would show off their wealth. Take a look around your local area and you might see pineapples on gateposts, fence post toppers and on buildings to reflect this Victorian status symbol. After much research, we’ve perfected the Victorian growing method and continue to grow pineapples in the restored pineapple pits of our Melon Yard.  

Heligan’s pineapple pits are heated using a Victorian method which extracts the heat from horse manure to recreate the tropical heat required to grown these much-loved fruits.  

Heligan’s pineapples take 18-24 months to grow so it’s a very labour intensive but worthwhile process which fascinates our visitors.  
It would be very easy for us to replace this method with modern heating techniques but then we’d be consigning another Victorian method to the history books.     

A Pair of Boot PlantersCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 7

Sustainability to our core

At Heligan, we celebrate food yards rather than food miles. You might see Heligan heritage produce being harvested in the morning and by lunch time it’s made the 157 yard journey from soil to your plate in a hearty home cooked meal in the Heligan Kitchen.  

We operate a whole tree policy at Heligan which means if a tree is felled at Heligan, it will be recycled on site, you might see a tree that's been recycled into benches, fences or mulch for the gardens. Where possible, we source everything as locally as we can. The last time that we checked, all but two of our suppliers for the Heligan Kitchen were from either Cornwall or Devon. 

Thunderbox RoomCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 8

Our history and memories

In the early 1900's, Heligan was a self sufficient working estate before the call up for World War One when the Heligan team left for the battlefields. When exploring the gardens back in 1990, a kettle was discovered on the fireplace and Vinery scissors still hung on the glasshouse wall. It was as if the gardeners had downed tools thinking that they would return, however in reality, the Heligan Estate would never be the same again.  

We know that 13 brave Heligan men went to war and of those, nine sadly lost their lives and only four returned.

Heligan Audio 8

In the Thunderbox Room (the Gardeners’ toilet) the gardeners’ signatures were found on the wall beneath a message that read; “don’t come here to sleep nor slumber – August 1914.   From the signatures on this wall, Heligan historians, trawled through the archives, visited war memorials and engaged with the local community to learn more about those brave men of 1914. The Thunderbox Room is now recognized as a living memorial by the Imperial War Museum and enables us to share stories of these men whilst honouring their memory in the restoration of the gardens.  

Heligan GardensCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 9

Community at our core

The local community really are the backbone of Heligan who share and help us along this journey of restoration and conservation. Without their support, we wouldn't be able to open the gardens all year round. 
In the early 90’s, visitors were invited to become Lifelong Members. By paying £100 each, they could visit as many times as they like in their lifetime. 30 years on, we’ve loved sharing this journey with them and couldn’t have done it without them. 
We welcome a number of regular Members on a weekly basis and feel that they are part of our close knit Heligan family. We enjoy seeing them for a catch up and love to hear their stories from the last 30 years of garden exploration.  

We welcome a number of regular Members on a weekly basis and feel that they are part of our close knit Heligan family. We enjoy seeing them for a catch up and love to hear their stories from the last 30 years of garden exploration.  

Heligan Audio 10

Heligan prides itself on is place within the local community and is able to help attracts tens of thousands of tourists to the area each year, providing much needed income and employment for the local residents. 
We reach out to local charities as much as we can including our current projects with our friends at People and Gardens CIC. This charity assists vulnerable adults and those with learning difficulties by teaching them how to grow produce. The charities fortnightly veg bags are a huge hit in the local area and the money made goes back into supporting this fantastic group of people.  

Sculpture in the Italian gardenCornwall Chamber of Commerce

Heligan Audio 10

August 2014 marked 100 years since the outbreak of World War One. To mark this day, we teamed up with Cornish Theatre Company, WildWorks, and the local community to create a landscape theatre performance that will never be forgotten. 5000 people from all walks of life joined us in remembering those brave men of 1914 whilst experiencing how harrowing the call up and war had been. 

Credits: Story

Discover more of Cornwall here

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
UK Gardens
From the smallest window box to the largest country estate
View theme
Google apps