Fox Rosehill Gardens

16th June 2016

CGT visit to Fox Rosehill

Although situated on the side of the main road through Falmouth towards Pendennis Castle, the gardens at Fox Rosehill are not well signed and relatively few people stop and visit. The public profile is less than is deserved. They are one of the early survivals of the horticultural and botanical works of the Fox family – indeed the only Fox town garden in existence, and they are one of the gems of Falmouth’s several municipal gardens.

Last year the recently formed Friends of Fox Rosehill Gardens joined Cornwall Gardens Trust as a corporate member. The aim of the Friends is to raise the profile and use of this horticulturally historical Victorian garden, to fund signage, and to help fund plants to replace those destroyed as a result of phytophthora. This visit provided an opportunity for members of the Trust to see the issues at first hand.

The gardens were begun by Robert Were Fox (1789-1877) after he moved there in 1821. He had a scientific approach to gardening and was particularly interested in the “acclimatizing of exotics”. He planted over 300 species of tender foreign plants as part of this experimentation. His nephew, Howard Fox, took over the site in 1872, when his uncle moved to Penjerrick, and added his own stamp – a Mediterranean style – with conifers forming a backdrop to plantings of Draceaenas, the whole providing a frame for internal vistas.

In 1944 Howard’s daughters gave the lower part of the garden to the town of Falmouth, the northern part later becoming part of Falmouth Art School, now the University. For the last 70 years the gardens have been managed as a municipal amenity and are currently maintained by Cormac, under a contract with Cornwall Council.

We were very fortunate to have a plethora of experts to inform us as we went around the garden. From Cormac were Howard Burns and Matt Stannard, who work at the gardens; Jacqui Owen, their Visitor and Community Engagement Officer for Falmouth Town Council, in partnership with Cormac; Jean Carr from the Friends of Fox Rosehill Gardens; Jon Mitchell, Public Space Team Leader for Cornwall Council; Ollie Bennett, Tree Officer for Cornwall Council. In addition there were three members of the Fox family.

The Main Lawn

The Main Lawn

With all this knowledge available from so many people it was not possible to hear all that everyone said, and I do not intend to try. From the entrance one comes quickly upon the main lawn with a lovely vista fringed with specimen trees, including an ironwood tree (parrotia persica) and a tulip tree (liriodendron tulipfera), planted in 1916 to mark Howard Fox’s 80th birthday.

Laurelia sempervirens

Laurelia sempervirens

The historic importance of the garden is reflected in the fact that in this small area there are two national champion trees olearia paniculata and leptospermum scoparium and also two county champions crinodendron hookerianum and eucalyptus dalrympleana and a. In addition there are many of the conifer species that were planted in the nineteenth century and today’s gardeners continue to plant anew, such as a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla).

There are scores of other interesting trees, of which I would pick out the leaves of a lophomyrtus bullata (myrtle family) and a Chilean laurel (laurelia sempervirens) with a lovely smell and a very pendulous habit.

Next to the glasshouse at the north-west of the Gardens, which is given over to cacti and succulents, is a terraced area of semi-arid planting and nearby a stunning doryanthes palmeri with leaves about 2.5m (8’) long. On the other side of the garden, forming the southern boundary of the site, is a wonderful collection of bamboos, which provide both a visual shelter and a windbreak.

The exotic plantings of Fox Rosehill were some of the first in Cornwall and inspired the branding of the “Cornish Riviera” by the Great Western Railway. It is in no small part due to the work of the Fox family here that seaside towns throughout Cornwall and Devon are festooned with dracaenas, tracycarpus, phormiums and the like.

In addition to this Fox Rosehill boasts a large nursery. Some 44,000 plants were grown here last year, supplying gardens managed by Cormac throughout west Cornwall. There is also an educational outreach programme, provided through partnership working between Cormac and Falmouth Town Council, involves primary and secondary school pupils with the opportunity to take part in interactive visits to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gardens, the plants within it and its heritage.

After our visit to the Nursery we made our way down to the Princess Pavilion for refreshments. Before having the refreshments, to further whet our appetite, we were given a tour of Gyllyngdune Gardens, which lie within the grounds of the Pavilion. The gardens were part of a very extensive restoration scheme of the Pavilion in 2010/11. Our 2012 Journal includes a history of the gardens and an article on a personal experience restoring the shell grotto, which the Trust assisted with. The lower gardens are maturing quickly and feel well established after the restoration, though we did not have time to look at them in detail.

The centerpiece of the upper garden is the magnificent bandstand, surrounded by bedding plants and set in the middle of a well-maintained lawn. The verandah that forms two sides of the lawn enhances the natural microclimate.

Under the verandah a hugely wide variety of tropical and sub-tropical plants thrive outside all year round, such as the strelitzia reginae (below), aloes, clivia, agave, tibouchina, abutilon, sago palm, albuca nelsonii, oleaner , opuntia, pseudopanax, kalanchoe, lythrops, aeoniums, echiverias and other succulents.