The Making of Hallowarren Garden

by Dana Towner

When my husband Henry retired in 1974 we decided to move to Cornwall.  We’d enjoyed holidays in Manaccan off and on since the early ’50s and so searched for a property in that area. We finally bought Hallowarren.
Originally it had been a farm of approximately 40 acres, owned at one time by the Lemon family and leased.  Probably between the wars it had been sold, and was bought by a Dr Daunt.  A keen fruit grower, he built the conservatory and planted the grapevine.  He employed a brother and sister called Cotterill to look after the farm and him.  Charlie Cotterill was famed for his cider, which rendered a great many of the local male population legless.  Miss Cottrill was renowned for her hospitality and her cream and jam.  There are still a few local friends of mine who remember them.  Lady Vyvyan (C.C. Vyvyan), in her book The Helford River, gives a good disguised description of Hallowarren (she calls it Polgigga) as it must have been just after the war. By this time Charlie was dead and Miss Cotterill was living on her own except for a young girl whom she treated like a daughter.  I think that Dr Daunt must have left Hallowarren to the Cotterills.  On the death of Miss Cotterill I believe there was some dispute over the ownership.
Before we took possession in the early autumn of 1975, Hallowarren had been let furnished for some years either to holidaymakers or to the Navy.  The only remains of a garden was a narrow strip about 6 ft wide between the end of the conservatory and the back door. It was divided from what had originally been the farmyard by a low stone wall with a little gate entrance at the conservatory end.

The area between the house and the stream was just rough gravel with no sign of the greenhouse that is mentioned in The Helford River.   The low-lying area beyond the house on the edge of the stream had the remains of apple trees and there were more stumps of fruit trees in the top field. Otherwise the whole area was a neglected wilderness.

Hallowarren was offered for sale with only the land immediately adjacent to the house, in all about 1_ acres. i.e. the low-lying area to the side of the house, the steeply sloping land above the house as far as the gate to the road, and a small area on the other side of the stream directly in front of the house.  This was a great asset as it gave scope for the development of a stream garden. The rest of the land was left to go wild or let to neighbouring farmers, and the barn opposite was a holiday let.

The house was badly in need of refurbishment.  We had to cut our way through the grape vine to reach the front door and until the following Easter lived in the cottage end of the house which was the part that needed the least amount of work done to it.  Whilst the builders were busy, I started work on the garden.

My husband was no gardener, but as an architect and land surveyor, he had ideas on layout and design.  He tackled the area in front of the house first, removed the wall that surrounded the small area of garden, and built on the porch at the end of the conservatory.  He then had a low double-skin wall built around the piece of land on the far side of the stream, and we planted a hedge of Griselinia littoralis on the top.  I designed bog beds on either side of the stream with steps down from the gravelled area in front of the house.  Henry designed and had built two bridges to cross the stream.  We were lucky enough to be able to find old paving and local stone e.g. the granite slabs in the conservatory were originally from an old piggery.

Henry’s next job was to hire a digger and driver to landscape the main part of the garden.  First, he had all the old tree stumps removed from the lower level that bordered the stream, roughly levelled it and dug a few necessary ditches as the area was very boggy.  Then starting at the top gate, he had terraces constructed and the sweeping grass walk that leads down to the lower level. Where this path turns at the top of this area he built steps leading down to the stream.  For some time this area along the stream was given over to vegetables and livestock.  We had been given some bantams and we bought some Aylesbury ducks – such beautiful birds, and I loved them dearly until I discovered that my onion sets were vanishing and I was astonished to find that the ducks were the culprits.  Eventually one by one they ended up on our dinner plates and the bantams were replaced by ordinary laying hens.
As soon as the initial construction work was finished, I started to design the beds and plan the planting.  I began with the area in front of the house and the edge of the stream.  Narrow beds edged with rough stone were formed in front of the house and conservatory.  As the ground was hard-packed gravel I had to excavate and then fill the beds with soil barrowed down from the top field.  I had some help for the heaviest work, but that first winter was nothing but hard slog.  By the spring the area on the far side of the stream was designed and the shrub beds and bog beds around the lawn area prepared ready for planting.  I had also cleared and designed the part of the garden that came to be called the cottage garden, which was divided from the low-lying stream area by a Cornish hedge.  This needed a lot of repairing and we made a new opening into the area that ran along the stream.

When it came to buying plants for the garden I shopped around using a variety of nurseries.  Quite a lot of plants came with me from my Sussex garden, and in the beginning I dealt with some nurseries known to me up country.  Then I began to explore the local nurseries, and only sent away when I couldn’t find in Cornwall the varieties I wanted.  Very soon I discovered David Knuckey’s nursery in Redruth (now the Burncoose Nurseries), and in the early days I also bought plants from Trelissick and the Wall Cottage Nursery.  I know an Azara microphylla variagata was purchased from Treseder’s Nurseries just before it was closed down.  This one was planted to the left of the new front door and a plain one to the right and a lot of the miniature white hybrid Gladiolus ‘The Bride’ formed an underplanting.

I find it difficult to remember all the hundreds of plants that went in during those first few years.  I have moved twice since Hallowarren, and I find I must have thrown away all my records of planting schemes and receipts; it’s impossible to keep everything.  Other wall plants included: at the entrance end of the house, a fig Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’ which I brought down from Sussex and was a cutting that was originally in a garden of a house we had lived in way back in the fifties.  Down the years I have taken cuttings and still have two in my present garden.  We were lucky enough to be given a Magnolia grandiflora by an old friend, which I planted by the back door. Against the wall beyond, I planted a white climbing rose, R. ‘Mrs Herbert Stevens’, and the claret vine, Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’.  In the bed in front, I planted a wintersweet, Chimonanthus fragrans, and several camellias.  I think I also put in the evergreen azalea ‘Greenway’ – one of the early plants I bought from David Knuckey.  On the right of the back door I jammed in a clump of Iris stylosa.  This is one of my treasures as it is a plant I was given when I first began learning to be a gardener.

In the bed in the corner of the porch, I put in a pink camellia (name forgotten), a Rhododendron  ‘Bric-a-brac’, and a Ceanothus prostratus.  I also put in hellebores, hostas, and spring-flowering bulbs obtained from Broadleigh Nurseries.  The narrow beds in front of the conservatory were planted with biennials.

When Hallowarren was featured on ‘Gardener’s World’ in 1985, John Kelly, one of the presenters, showed two plants, a yellow Rosa banksiae and Solanium  crispum ‘Glasnevin’ flowering together.  Near the opening to the main part of the garden a Ginkgo biloba was planted, another of the first plants from David Knuckey.  Another plant, obtained in Sussex from Will Ingersen in 1964, Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s prostrate’ is still thriving today.  My daughter developed this cottage end of the garden into a rock and scree garden, incorporating the natural rocky backdrop to include wild primroses and dwarf bulbs.

The vine which was growing on a large bed taking up most of the conservatory was much neglected.  We cut it back to leave only a small raised bed in which I planted the white winter-flowering Jasminum polyanthum. This was a great success as it scrambled up the vine and flowered profusely. Of course, I had to slaughter it every year or it would have strangled the vine. I also had to learn how to prune the vine, which was trained to go right through into the end of the conservatory.

I used some of my Sussex trees and shrubs for the bed on the stream.  These included a plant of Phormium tenax ‘Purpureum’.  My original plant had been given to me by a farmer friend, Walter Eva, who used to live in the cottage next to the New Inn, Manaccan.  He had a huge plant growing by his gate, and I had taken a piece of it up to my Sussex garden in the 1950s.  Many years later Neil Treseder told me that when Treseder’s ran out of this plant they used to come to Manaccan for more.  The trees I planted included a Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ and another cherry, probably ‘Kanzan’.  I also planted a magnolia, whose name I have also forgotten, which never flowered whilst I lived in Hallowarren.  The steps down to the stream and the bridge over it were marked with a pair of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Columnaris’ and C. ‘Ellwoodii’.  I now view all my conifer plantings as grave mistakes.  No consideration was given as to just how big and overpoweringly they were to grow.  In the bed below, on the boggy edge of the stream, arums, primulas and irises thrived.  I sent away to the Barnhaven Nurseries, Kendal for their candelabra and Asiatic primulas for the boggy areas, and for seed of their double primroses and so started off my present small collection.

We had repeated the paving by the stream on the far side and there was another boggy area between it and the bridge downstream.  In this bed I planted the American Arum (Arum triphyllum).  I love its yellow spathe and glossy leaves but its flowers are disgusting as they die off.  On the left-hand side of the paved area I placed two yews on either side of the step up, and to the right of the left-hand yew I put a Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’.

I had designed shrub beds to go around the lawn area, and to give privacy from The Barn (the holiday let on the other side of the stream).  I started by planting two or three eucalyptus.  In the thirty years since, like the conifers, they have grown far too tall.  Most of the rest of my plantings were acers and rhododendrons, with shorter-lived shrubs as fillers.  Single and double primroses, cyclamen and other suitable ground cover were put amongst the shrubs and along the edge of the lawn.  I remember the cyclamen were lost one year to an over-enthusiastic weeder. One group planting that was highlighted in the ‘Gardener’s World’ programme is Erica mediterranea, the pale-yellow Cytisus x praecox, and Spiraea ‘Goldflame’.

When the garden over the stream was more or less planted up, I started to get to grips with the rest of the garden.  We had decided to plant fruit trees in the top field on the terrace, and put up a fruit cage – this cage was not a particular success and was soon pulled down and replaced with more apple trees.  The plums trees have likewise succumbed.  Below these, at the top of the steep drop to the lower level, I planted a ‘Bramley’ apple, which is now huge.  At the top, on either side of the gate, I put in two horse chestnuts. When we first started to refurbish Hallowarren we had pulled out a seedling horse chestnut that was growing out of the side of the cob barn-end of the house.  This upset some of the neighbours, as we were told it was to be the replacement for the big horse chestnut by the creek which supplied the village children with conkers.  We also planted a walnut tree on the top level.  Here again I made a mistake in planting a conifer too close to it, so that now it is being overlaid.

At this time I found I had some very miserable little camellias. I forget where they came from but they were so poor that I could not see them ever surviving.  I decided to plant these poor scraps down the edge of the path that led to the bottom garden interspersed with a couple of rowans and a cherry.  This ultimately successful row of camellias has given me more pleasure than most of my gardening efforts.  Eventually, below the ‘Bramley’ in what we called The Dell, I planted some hardy rhododendrons.  It was not until later that we cleared and levelled the section immediately behind the house and put steps up from a door from the first floor at the back of the house.  I planted a yellow conifer to block out the road as this terrace was very exposed.  This I think is in the right place.  It was on this top terrace that Henry put his bee hives.  It was about this time that we put in the beech, lime and red-oak trees in this top area.  I expect I put in other shrubs on the slope and the banks but I don’t remember what they were.
At the turn of the grass walk to the bottom garden I planted a eucalyptus and the lovely yellow Rhododendron ‘Ightham Yellow’.  Round the corner on the left there was the only one of the old apple trees that I was able to save, and Rosa ‘Wedding Day’ was placed to scramble up its trunk.  This area had been used by the builders when we first moved as a dumping ground for rubbish; it then became our bonfire area, and later, a very basic compost heap.  I was a bit careful to keep clear of ericaceous plants as I suspected that there might be the odd bag of cement underneath.  The only other plants I remember putting in are a couple of myrtles.

In those days we were rather keen on being as self-sufficient as possible. We had put up a small greenhouse close to the cottage hedge under the bank so I could grow tomatoes etc.  A gravel path followed along the hedge to the greenhouse, and to the side I developed an area for vegetables and bush fruit, with herbs in front of the greenhouse.  We ceased to keep chicken and ducks after a few years as we had trouble with foxes.  I was then able to co-ordinate this whole part of the garden.

I had made a pergola at the bottom of the vegetable patch, over a gravel path with beds beneath. I planted old-fashioned roses up the posts but don’t remember many of their names.  The most successful was ‘Blairii Number Two’.  In the beds underneath I put various herbaceous plants.  At the same time as we put up the pergola, I had made a sort of fruit cage between it and the greenhouse.  This covered up my vegetables and fruit bushes.  I only covered it with netting when the fruit was ripening, to restrict bird damage.  At the end of the pergola path I planted a Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’ on the stream bank and also clumps of a large variety of the Red-hot poker which flowered fairly early in the year.

Under the high bank Henry had a flat area dug for a summerhouse, and to the left of this we built a barbecue. Between the barbecue and the greenhouse I built a raised bed into which went small shrubs and herbaceous plants. The only one I remember clearly is huge clump of Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’.  Beyond the fruit-cage I made a path flanked by a bed, and then grass. At the top of this path I put in a Prunus ‘Mount Fuji’ and a Ciborium plicatum ‘Mariesii’.  More rhododendrons (one was ‘Elizabeth’) went in on the left of the grass walk beyond the summerhouse, and at least one ornamental tree.
On the right below the bed with the old apple tree, Henry had had laid a paved area to take a seat, and stoned up the bank in two terraces. These I planted with small bulbs and rock plants.  A path led from the top of this area down to the stream where there was a small island on which I planted a Taxodium distichum. Having made a bed on the left of the path, I planted it up with a Styrax japonica, rhododendrons, deciduous azaleas and primulas etc. We put in a short paved path along the side of the stream; to the right of which I planted an Acer ‘Senkaki’ with heathers and other ericaceous plants, and another bed above this was planted with small shrubs.

We were very sorry to have to give up Hallowarren owing to my husband’s disabilities. I realise now that I made several mistakes by over-planting, and not considering the final size of some of the trees, particularly conifers; if we had staved I would have had to remove a great many favourites. Looking back, however, it was great fun to be able to start a garden from scratch.

Dana has created two more gardens since leaving Hallowarren in 1986.

WHAT is a Garden?
Goodness knows!
You’ve got a garden,
I suppose:
To one it is a piece of ground
For which some gravel must be found.
To some, those seeds that must be sown,
To some a lawn that must be mown.
To some a ton of Cheddar rocks;
To some it means a window-box;
To some, who dare not pick a flower-
A man, at eighteen pence an hour.
To some, it is a silly jest
About the latest garden pest;
To some, a haven where they find
Forgetfulness and peace of mind…
What is a garden
Large or small
‘Tis just a garden,
After all.
Reginald Arkell (1942) Green fingers, a present for a good gardener.  Pub. by Herbert Jenkins.