Enys Gardens Under Restoration

by Barry Champion


Agave Americana flowering and south face of Enys House early 1900s

The excellent work of the Cornwall Gardens Trust, in particular a report by Sue Pring, introduced the gardening public to the little known sleepy delight called Enys in St Gluvias, Penryn.  The oldest recorded garden in Cornwall, Enys has survived in the ownership of the same family since the time of Edward I, and the estate has weathered the decline of farming and mining together with the fluctuating fortunes of the Enys family.

On the death of C.R.S. Enys in 1980, the estate was inherited by Prof. G.L. Rogers, who instigated a recovery programme of what was a derelict garden.  He increased the number of garden staff, and through his vision and enthusiasm endowed a charitable trust in 2002 known as The Enys Trust to secure the long-term future of the garden. The Trustees aim to restore the garden to its former glory and also make it more widely accessible to the public.

In 1833, John Samuel Enys engaged Henry Harrison, a London architect, to produce designs for the garden as well as the house.  Amongst these was a design for the Ladies Garden, later called the Flower Garden, with access to the Colonel’s Garden named after Colonel Enys (1757-1818).  But it was J. D. Enys (1837-1912) who greatly enriched the garden with seeds and plants that he regularly sent home from New Zealand and Patagonia.  The very first introduction to this country of the beautiful Chatham Island forget-me-not, Myosotidium hortensia, was made here.  Resulting from their passion for plants, the family published a booklet in 1909, Trees, Shrubs and Plants Growing at Enys.   This gave details of over 1000 different taxon and it is this list which forms the basis of the restoration programme now taking place.

My involvement with the garden is as an horticultural adviser and has developed to one of great passion.  Enys is one of Cornwall’s great gardens, now re-awaking from that very romantic sleep which so many of our gardens have experienced over the last 100 years.

The Gardens
The visitor enters the property via the Enys Lodge to be greeted by a long linear parc which has mature deciduous trees and specimen conifers, unusually dominated by very large Turkey Oaks, Quercus cerris.  Two main points of interest are: on the left-hand side, a run of several hundred yards of Rhododendron ‘Russellianum’ (Cornish Red) – a magnificent site when in full bloom; and on the right-hand side a quite unique and superb view looking down to the town of Falmouth.

Passing over the second cattle grid, the visitor now enters the pleasure grounds proper, and immediately the contrast of neglect and yet great charm can be seen.  It is this contrast that the trustees have to deal with in their restoration programme.  Standards are to be improved but some of the ‘lost’ charm must be retained.  In this part of the garden, some mature and new plantings are dominated, unfortunately, by Rhododendron ponticum and Prunus lauroceraceus – a theme continued throughout the garden.  The onslaught of these invasive plants has had singularly the most negative effect on the overall plant collection.

Continuing down the rather neglected drive to the grass car park, one can see the woodland plantings which protect the garden from the more severe weather conditions which we sometimes experience in Cornwall.  Free from the constraints of the motor car, we can explore at our leisure.  We approach the rear of the mansion, passing the mowhay and the farm buildings, to view the quite unique (in Cornwall) clock tower.  The design is very ‘Italian’.  Possibly a design brought back from the Grand Tour, by a previous owner.


The Clock Tower

Walking to the front of the mansion, one passes under a fine Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’ (fern leaved Beech), and towards the right a magnificent Acer platanoides ‘Schwedleri’ – standing at 18m one of the champion trees in the garden.

The outline of the formal garden on the south front can still be seen with probably the largest Cleyera japonica ‘Tricolor’ in Cornwall. But what sets this off as the most exquisite vista on the whole estate is the quite magnificent ‘English’ parkland.  This rolling demesne is punctuated by fine specimen trees culminating with natural stands of native woodland securing this enchanting scene from any outside influence.


View from the South Front looking to the Park

Turning left and descending a short flight of steps, we enter an area which runs down to the ‘productive’ kitchen garden, and contains plants that would be described as typically Cornish – rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias dominating the collection.  But the more discerning student of horticulture would identify outstanding examples of the Chilean laurel, Laurelia sempervirens and another champion tree, the Mockernut Hickory, Carya tomentosa standing 16m tall.  Passing the Laurelia on the right-hand side of the path we approach an outstanding example of Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’.  This too is the largest specimen in Britain (8m).  Because of the layout of the pleasure grounds there is no formal recommended route, so as a visitor you can discover at your ease the delights of the garden in a very relaxed manner.

It might well be appropriate at this stage to draw attention to the loftier plants that dominate.  There are some quite spectacular trees, of which the following are of note.  Turkey and Lucombe oaks, both well over 30m tall.  Two podocarpus, salignus and totara, the latter was the tallest in the country but lost its leader in the 1990 storm; it still remains an outstanding tree.  Both the male and female forms of Araucaria araucaria (Monkey Puzzle) and continuing the conifer theme, a magnificent Cryptomeria japonica var. sinensis can be seen; also the most unusual if not unique plant of Fagus sylvatica f. ‘Purpurea’.  This is a grafted plant at about 3metres, and below the graft two side branches have been left to grow on.  Both these side branches are the size of trees in their own right, and it has been suggested that this was an apprentice piece.  It would seem that the green and purple forms growing on the same tree to such a majestic size must be quite a unique feature of any garden.

Another outstanding plant NE of the house is a 22m high Ginko Biloba reputedly a female form.  Quite near the Maidenhair Tree is the gardener’s cottage where refreshments are served; delicious home made cakes and scones.  It’s well worth the entry fee just to sample Sue’s wonderful home cooking.

Continuing our walk north through the garden, one is suddenly presented with a most wonderful view down to the water garden – a series of ponds, which in the 17th century were described as canals.  Unfortunately, this area has restricted access at this time but its beauty can be appreciated from the upper path.  A view flanked by a small collection of acers with what is a quite unique feature in our Cornish gardens, a ‘Laurel Lawn’.  This ‘lawn’ disguises and shields a footpath which would otherwise interrupt a view of the pond.  Tree ferns and bamboos enhance the beauty of this most restful and peaceful of scenes.  It may be prudent to mention at this time the remains of a water wheel and ram pump, both in quite good condition, placed besides the ponds to elevate water to the mansion for domestic purposes.  It never ceases to amaze me how inventive our predecessors were in using nature rather than fossil fuels to complete what today would be a complicated process.

A few paces on and, if visiting in mid April/May, the visitor can see probably the finest of Enys’s many delights, the expansive display of bluebells in what is known as ‘Parc Lye’.  This area covering several acres is believed to be undisturbed since ancient times and is unsurpassed in any other Cornish garden.

Bearing right towards the Kitchen Garden one discovers the Broad Walk; a wide walk which culminates in a summer house that seems in terminal decline.  The walk itself is flanked by an eclectic collection of plants including rhododendron, camellia, halesia and a banana, Musa basjoo.

One of the most interesting features along the walk is a collection of minerals erroneously described as a rockery.  This is without doubt an important part of the history of the garden, as members of the family were important mine owners in the county.

Two other features which ought to be mentioned are: the 12th-century Cornish Cross introduced to the garden in 1848 by John Samuel Enys.  It was acquired from the vicar of Sancreed in payment of ‘a cart load of things’.  No record has survived of what those goods were, but I am sure they were value for money in exchange for such an important piece of Cornish history.  Right beside the Cross is a granite cider press with an engraved date of 1796.  Cider presses are not unusual but this one dated is a very rare occurrence.

On the south side of the Kitchen Garden is the Flower Garden which at the present time is being restored by the small and dedicated garden team, led by Mr Martin Mattock.  Upon entering, you are immediately confronted by the very beautiful Lagarstrobus franklinii (the Huon Pine), not grown extensively in Cornwall.  The flower beds are clearly defined in a very attractive manner by large spar stones.  These beds contain some trees, shrubs and mainly herbaceous subjects grown in a quite haphazard but pleasing way.  The walls of a lean-to glasshouse are to be seen with the thermo-siphon heating system still in situ.

At the bottom of the Flower Garden is the Colonel’s Garden, a small walled enclosure which is at the present time being developed with a scented theme.  The dominant feature is the Italianate gateway which leads to the wilderness.  Although a small space, it does have a charm all to itself and when the existing planting matures, it will be a delightful resting place for the relief of stresses and strains of modern life.

The Kitchen Garden, which at present is not open to the public, contains several interesting features, some of which are historically very important.


The Kitchen Garden

A  delightful small building takes centre stage, which was used as a tool shed, cribroom and the Head Gardener’s office.  The equipment contained therein suggests that the garden staff, 100 years ago, just walked away, leaving everything in situ.

Two tall pavilions which are evident on the Borlase print of 1758 can be seen clearly on the east wall.  Both are slightly altered, one turned into an apple store and the other, into a Head Gardener’s desirable cottage.  Throughout the walled garden, there is evidence of its former use; i.e. standing-out frames, bases of former glasshouses, a dipping pond, and a remarkable, and still in good condition, saddle-back boiler which heated all the greenhouses via a thermo-siphon system.

It is quite impossible to relay to the reader all the history and charms of such a romantic garden, suffice it to say that its long history, its relationship with the surrounding countryside, the biodiversity contained within the estate, and of course, the very extensive plant collection, makes Enys one of the most important of all our beautiful Cornish gardens.

I hope that all visitors to the garden will experience the unique atmosphere that has given me so much pleasure in recent times.

Members of the Cornwall Garden Trust will fully recognise how difficult it is to embark on such an ambitious project without finance, management skills, horticultural skills, labour inputs and above all enthusiasm for the project.  The Trustees would like to encourage volunteers to complement our small dedicated team to drive forward this process.  Many skills are needed from ‘front of house’, research, publicity, tour guides, and of course help in the garden.