Tresillian House Gardens

On 14 July, a group of us visited Tresillian House Gardens, just 4 miles from the sea. It was a day of warm sun and threatening showers but we had sunshine until the end of the visit. John Harris, the Head Gardener, gave us an introductory talk about the history of the house and estate. Sadly all plans of the gardens as they once were, had disappeared by the time John was appointed twenty-five years ago to put order into what had become a wilderness of rampant laurel, bramble, and sycamore saplings. All had to be cleared to bring about the present owner’s aim to restore the grounds to the vision he has of what might have existed when the house was built in 1840. Much has been achieved, and there are exciting plans for further clearing and planting an arboretum with a shelter belt against the prevailing westerly winds is to be planted in the autumn, and a large Victorian greenhouse is to be built next year on the site of the present fruit garden.

We were led past a small lake along woodland paths to a small orchard, fruit garden and a vista of the house which had been cleared last winter, and then to the walled garden which was a revelation. It is totally planted as it would have been in Victorian times, and is completely organic and never watered the tomatoes in the greenhouse excepted. There were rows of luscious broad beans, cabbages, rare black-podded peas (which came from France and of which John Harris is the only custodian), potatoes and runner beans. Then, with the heat bouncing off the old brick walls, the scent of the tall-stemmed, old-fashioned carnations was gloriously evocative: also, there were stocks, dahlias, cosmos and French marigolds. Instead of insecticides, comfrey is used for making a spray against aphids and John also uses an infusion of nettles and water to make a rich liquid for spraying against whitefly.

John gardens with the stages of the moon: full moon draws the maximum moisture up in the soil, so rooted plants thrive; but the last quarter of the moon has the least moisture, so then all the digging & fertilising is carried out. It was a place where we all wanted to linger, but having previously raided the old fruit garden for soft fruit, we dragged ourselves away and walked through a large orchard planted in a diamond pattern containing almost every variety of Cornish plum. There were also trees of Cornish apples, although John did admit that some of these also grew across the Tamar in Devon. Finally, we walked back to the house through a small plantation which had been planted by prison inmates who spent 18 months working under supervision on the estate. Some still return to see how their work is progressing, and apparently only one has re-offended.

An amazing find was made when the ground for the orchard was being cleared. Folklore suggested there had been a chapel in the field but no-one knew exactly where, but the JCB hit something solid, and a beautiful mediaeval stone mullion which had been supporting an arch of the chapel was revealed. It now stands as a splendid focal point in the orchard.

Marian Donaldson
14th July 2010