Trewidden Garden

‘Sweet is the sunshine after the rain’ and so it was for the CGT visit to Trewidden Garden at the end of March. Kew-trained head gardener, Richard Morton, treated us to a fascinating amble around the 15-acre woodland garden, part of the 21 acres he looks after for the current owner Alverne Bolitho, helped by two full-time gardeners. Alverne is the youngest son of Simon Bolitho, and brother of Edward Bolitho of Trengwainton.

Richard Morton with Magnolia sargentiana

Richard Morton with Magnolia sargentiana

Richard explained the history. Thomas Bolitho came to Penzance from Wendron in about 1769 to prospect in the tin industry. His family businesses prospered and it was around 1830 that his eldest grandson, Edward, bought Trewidden, once the site of an ancient tin mine. Edward started planting the garden in the second half of the nineteenth century. Aided by his talented head gardener, George Maddern who was in post for 45 years, he established woodland shelter and brought in newly introduced plants from Asia and the Southern Hemisphere, shaping the garden to roughly the size it is today. Edward’s son, Thomas Bedford, further enhanced the garden. He most notably planted tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica), imported by the Treseders from Australia, to fill in the old opencast mine to create the Tree Fern Dell, one of the main features of the garden. This family enthusiasm for gardening passed to Thomas’s daughter, Mary who married into the Williams family of Caerhays. After her husband died in 1955 she came home to Trewidden and gardened with a passion until her death in 1977. The Caerhays connection facilitated the introduction of many unusual plants and trees. Today the garden is under the stewardship of Mary’s cousin, Alverne Bolitho, who began opening the garden to the public in 2001/2 to share with others the peace, surprise and delight of this beautiful place.

Thus informed, we set off on the tour and plunged in to discover the fruits of all these wonderful gardeners who have gone before.
I say ‘plunged in’ because there are no views out of the woodland garden and the shady paths with mighty trees overhead lead to only a few clearings. However recent storm damage has created gaps in the western monoculture shelterbelts of Pinus radiata.

A lesson learnt and they are being replaced by new mixed plantings. We were soon standing in awe of the tree fern pit planted in 1902 and where at least 15 specimens of Dicksonia antartica have achieved a height of 4m. A recent clearance of laurel has opened up the views across the pit, which is littered with tree fern seedlings, but it retains a wonderful shady prehistoric atmosphere. Towering above are Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta and M. dawsoniana, the latter coming from Caerhays in 1946 where the first generation of seedlings was raised.

Ancient Butia capitata

Ancient Butia capitata

Our visit was planned to coincide with the magnificent magnolia season and we were not to be disappointed. At the top of the Mowhay Richard pointed out the 100-year old M. campbellii subsp. mollicomata. Moving on towards the pond we passed a very old Jelly Palm, Butia capitata, displaying huge holes in the stem which is the result of frost damage over the years. The pond is sinister and dark-watered but is enlightened by a sculpture of the diving back of a small whale with the tail half-raised. It was presented to Alverne’s son by a godfather. Sadly the tail no longer wiggles nor does it spout water.

Across the pond can be seen the largest of Trewidden’s magnolias, M. x veitchii ‘Peter Veitch’, created in the Veitch nursery in 1906/7 and planted in the 1920s. It flowers at the end of March and its 80 foot canopy is covered in white flushed pink goblets: an amazing sight against a clear blue sky. This is one of Trewidden’s Champion Trees. Nearby is another Champion for girth, M. obovata (syn. hypoleuca), the Big Leaved Japanese Magnolia, planted in 1897 along the North Walk ,one of the original paths laid out in the 1840s. It has very fragrant cream flowers with crimson centres in late spring and huge waxy leaves. Unfortunately we were just a bit too late to view the striking dark pink flowers of M. ‘Trewidden Belle’ which flowers early to mid-February.

Throughout the garden there are over 300 species/cultivars of camellia. This collection was amassed during the 26 years that Michael Snellgrove was head gardener until the 1970s. He was responsible for developing a successful camellia business.

Camellia japonica ‘Scented Red’ and C. japonica ‘Alba Simplex’ are among the many to be seen flowering in the garden. On our way to the Walled Garden we pass the garden’s finest specimen of Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) planted probably in the 1870s to provide shelter. Herbaceous plants fill the one-acre Walled Garden to extend the season of interest for visitors. Recently the small pond and waterfall in the Rock Garden have been restored and we were told the pond would be planted with aquatics later in the season.

As a special treat, before we headed off to the Tea Room, Richard led us around the front of Trewidden House, a handsome, granite, lime-rendered manor built in 1848, to take in the view to St Michael’s Mount. Tree cover has robbed some of the view but there are still tantalising glimpses. The lawn is enhanced by a thought-provoking sculpture by local artist, David Patten. The 5 acres of grounds surrounding the house are kept private as is the main driveway. The drive borders have been cleared of Rhododendron ponticum and it is Richard’s pet project to replant with a collection of 50 Ernest Wilson evergreen kurume azaleas. I think he has 35 so far. We wish him luck as he builds up this collection making his personal mark in the long history of Trewidden.

Jean Marcus – 25th March