The Cornwall Gardens Trust – 21 Years Old

by Nigel Mathews

In 1985 English Heritage produced its Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. In it were listed only 18 in Cornwall including Tresco. Locally we knew there were more what should be done about it?

The following autumn representatives from the county councils and various conservation groups from Hampshire, Wiltshire, Avon, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall met to discuss the problems concerned with the conservation of gardens and the recognition of their gardening heritage. Throughout the country, it was seen that gardens especially the large historical ones were fast disappearing as a result of development or falling into disrepair through lack of finance and knowledge. Gardens and designed landscapes had no statutory protection like listed buildings or ancient monuments and so could be swept away under housing sites, caravan parks and golf courses.

With tourism playing such an important part in Cornwall’s economy and with an increase in garden visiting, it made sense to do something to safeguard our garden heritage. We knew we had a wealth of gardens that ranged from the prehistoric to the modern; from designed landscapes to plant treasuries; garden owners might know what they possessed but no one knew the full extent. Elsewhere in the country Gardens Trusts were being formed to gather together information on gardens and offer practical assistance and encouragement to garden owners as well as to raise general awareness of the need for garden conservation. With pressure from a number of garden owners and backing by the County Council, the Cornwall Gardens Trust was formed.

Setting Up the Trust
Initially a small number of interested people came together to form the Cornwall Gardens Trust (CGT). The committee consisted of:

  • Sir Richard Carew Pole (Chairman) – County Council
  • F.W. Shepherd – NCCPG
  • C. Fox – Cornwall Heritage Trust
  • Mrs N. Colville – Garden Owner
  • N. Holman – Garden Owner
  • D. Palmer – Country Landowners’ Association
  • L. Bracher – Cornish Nurserymen’s Association
  • Mrs M. Campbell-Culver – Garden History Society
  • P. Blake County – Hort. Education Adviser
  • I. Martin – Deputy County Planning Officer
  • N.J. Mathews – County Landscape Architect
  • R. Meyrick – National Trust
  • M. Pollock – Cornwall Garden Society
  • P. Talbot – Association of District Councils
  • Mrs B. Oakely – National Gardens Scheme
  • C. Williams – Burncoose Nurseries
  • R. Dorrien Smith – Abbey Gardens, Tresco
  • J.C. Boston – Lands End Ltd
  • Dr D. Hunt – Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • T. Hibbert (Secretary) – Trebah Gardens Trust

It was agreed that the Trust would become a registered charity and be incorporated as a limited liability company. A constitution was adopted that followed closely those of other Gardens Trusts, notably Hampshire, that were being established throughout the country with the principle object being:

To preserve, enhance and re-create for the education and enjoyment of the public whatever garden land may exist or have existed around the county

The Trust was launched at the Royal Cornwall Show in 1988 when an appeal was made to enrol members and to raise a significant sum to ensure the smooth running of the Trust and its enterprises. Garden owners were also to be asked to open their gardens for the Trust to add to the coffers. An ambitious target of 2,000 members and £100,000 was set. Following the launch, an article appeared in Horticultural Week announcing that the CGT had been set up.

The people who had come to the initial meeting agreed to become the first Council of Management. They decided to follow the lead of Wiltshire and Devon Trusts in making an early start on preparing a survey of Cornish gardens in a form that could be used for exhibition. A Projects Committee was set up to oversee this and 12 gardens were chosen with a professional landscape archi-tect employed to carry out the surveys. Over succeeding years, the survey would be expanded to cover as many gardens as possible using volunteer Trust members. To this end the Projects Committee became the Projects and Recording Committee and then split into two. The Recorders’ Group are still carrying out surveys, creating records of Cornish gardens. A third committee, the Finance Committee, was also set up to oversee fundraising and membership. Owners of gardens nobly rose to the challenge to help to swell the CGT’s coffers and having opened their gardens donated the day’s entry money to the Trust. This continued for a number of years with gardens such as St Michael’s Mount and Trebah raising considerable sums. The CGT was and still is extremely grateful to all who gave so generously as well as to the members who stewarded St Michael’s Mount needed a minimum of 12 stewards.

The Programme of Events
As part of the activities to attract members, a programme of garden visits was arranged. Originally known as ‘Connoisseur Days’, these were private visits to gardens usually open to the public or visits to ones not normally open. These continue today, most recently under the energetic organisation of Jill Carpenter. As numbers are limited, members get a better insight into the gardens, meeting the owners and discussing their plans and aspirations. Where a garden has been recorded, recorders are able to give a short presentation on the discoveries made during their investigations. Following the success of the recorders’ surveys, a number of study days were arranged, notably at Antony and Godolphin, when speakers were engaged to give an in-depth analysis to the background of a garden. Lectures were always popular and for a number of years there was a lecture and luncheon in the spring at the start of the garden visit season. Latterly the Chairman’s Christmas lunch has also been much appreciated.

The Newsletter, the Journal and the Book
21-1To keep members informed a newsletter was produced that grew from one edition a year to three. Editor David Pearce has been indefatigable in gathering material and producing the broadsheet for most of its existence. An annual journal was seen as another way of keeping in contact with the membership and, having produced a feasibility study for the Council of Management, Gordon Fenwick produced and published the first two in 1991 and 1992. The task of continuing the Journal’s production was ably taken up by the Membership and Programme Committee; editors have included Daphne Lawry, Philip and Elizabeth Henslowe, Jean Marcus and now Trish Gibson. Contributions from members and garden owners are eagerly sought to create an interesting and knowledgeable publication. In 1996 the Trust went further and produced a book, Glorious Gardens of Cornwall. Edited by Sue Pring with a foreword by Roy Lancaster, this gazetteer of Cornish gardens includes chapters on their historical background as well as plants and planting.

The Project Committee
The Project Committee under Nigel Holman got off to a flying start. At Prideaux Place, Padstow, the Prideaux-Brunes wanted help with the restora-tion of the Victorian Sunken Garden; at Liskeard, the Stuart House Museum wanted assistance in turning their backyard into a pleasance. Old photographs of Prideaux gave a clue to the garden layout so I was able to draw up a plan; the National Trust lent a gardener, Nigel Teagle, who was seeking managerial experience in running a team; the estate provided the workforce and the restoration was underway. Clearance of the area revealed the original layout still slumbering beneath bramble and grass and so it became an easier than expected task to complete the restoration. A couple of years later the garden was further enhanced as part of the set for the film of Twelfth Night. At Stuart House a plan was produced that was a pastiche of the type of early 17th-century one that could have been there. The Museum Trust set to work and created the garden which is now used for events as well as quiet enjoyment.

Under its second chairman, Maggie Campbell-Culver, the Projects Committee promoted the building of a ‘Cornish’ garden at the Royal Cornwall Showground and initiated the millennium exhibition, Plants, People and Places. The garden was meant to be showcased at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 1993 but lack of sponsorship meant the project had to be abandoned. However Plants, People and Places was a great success in the Royal Cornwall Museum lasting for six weeks and included two lectures. Display material was loaned from various garden owners and the Museum of Garden History at Trevarno. After the exhibition the 11 panels on the history of gardening in Cornwall went on tour, nobly organised by Pamela Long, to various venues throughout the county. Copies of the boards can now be seen in the Garden Museum at Trevarno. In 2002 an exhibition stand based on gardens seen in the ‘Black Book of Spoure’ was built as part of the displays for the Cornwall Garden Society’s Golden Jubilee Show at Trelissick. The stand was admired by HM the Queen who was intrigued as to how it was constructed. Throughout its history the CGT has had stands at the Royal Cornwall Show and/or the Cornwall Garden Society Show with displays of its activities. The work of the volunteers that create and man the stands is greatly appreciated.

Small Grants Scheme
A further project that was initiated was the Small Grants Scheme that could be used to help garden owners restore a garden feature especially if the feature had come to light during the recording process. Although it is a small grant it can often be the seed corn that encourages the donation of much greater aid. The CGT is proud to have been able to offer this grant to the Micropropaga-tion Unit at Duchy College to assist in its fight against Sudden Oak Death and the rescue of historical plant species (see Ros Smith’s update on pp.37-40)

Within the Projects Committee nestled the Survey sub-committee led by Douglas Pett. It was proposed to recruit volunteers to carry out surveys of gardens within Cornwall in order to find out what currently existed, whether there were any historical remains and if there was any motivation for restoration. The ideal was to concentrate on the smaller gardens that had not been listed by English Heritage but could be found in references such as Thurston’s British and Foreign Trees and Shrubs in Cornwall published in the 1930s. A keen group of recorders was built up with many coming from local groups of the National Association of the Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. In order to provide training in carrying out surveys, a consultant landscape architect, Mike Westley of Geoff Pring Associates, was employed, carrying out surveys for the first eight gardens and proffering guidance to the volunteers for future surveys. The Survey Group then became the Recording Committee and developed its own style of recording. Members visited gardens, described them, photographed them, trawled through the archives and then had the unenviable task of putting all the information together to create the garden record. On completion a bound copy of the record is handed to the owner and the original documents are lodged in the County Record Office. It is hoped to establish a collection of additional bound records at the Cornwall Centre in Redruth as well as to deposit some of the basic information on the Parks and Gardens national database held currently at York. As part of their resource material, the Recorders have established a collection of books about historical gardening at the Courtney Library in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. Over the years the Recorders have recorded almost 80 gardens, both large and small, throughout the county a staggering achievement. The latest record is the one for Pencarrow that was handed over to Lady Iona Molesworth-St Aubyn at the end of March.

Although the original remit for the Recorders was to concentrate on non-listed gardens, their success on smaller gardens has emboldened them to take on some of the larger listed ones, revealing information not previously known, thereby enhancing the lean basic survey carried out by English Heritage. This research has enabled more gardens to be listed so achieving one of the CGT’s objectives of increasing the number of listed gardens. There are now 35 in Cornwall. The records have also been used to get grants towards the development and protection of a garden and force at least one developer to have a full archaeological survey carried out to record the area before building could commence and the remains of the garden lost for ever.

As the CGT expanded, it became concerned about the lack of horticultural activities in schools, especially primary schools. Jan Bright became the CGT’s Education Officer and developed a programme with a few guiding principles:

  • to encourage children to become more involved with gardening and related activities
  • to provide an innovative learning environment for pupils and a useful community resource
  • to get children themselves to have a say about the kind of garden project they want and help them to create plans and designs as well as helping with the building and maintenance of the garden


A small band of volunteers with money redirected from the Small Grants Scheme began with just one or two schools but in 2004 with the help of additional funding from the Tanner Trust, they added another 12 primary schools (the schools helped so far are listed on p.62). The specially tailored workshops run by the Duchy College to look at such things as plant science and pond life were greeted with enthusiasm and as a result RHS Education asked CGT to help with its campaign ‘Flourish’. The Small Grants Scheme has been further extended to provide small bursaries for students attending horticultural courses at the Duchy College when help can be extended towards transport costs, tuition fees and books.

Association of Gardens Trusts
Like other gardens trusts throughout the country, the CGT is part of a national umbrella organisation, the Association of Gardens Trusts (AGT). This body represents the work of the county trusts at government level to encourage the development of statutory protection for gardens and maintain a high profile for gardens in the conservation lobby. It also seeks to establish grant-funded packages for garden restoration and maintenance. This was partially successful after the hurricanes of 1989 and 1991 when limited grant aid was available to estate and garden owners to help clear up and replant the acres of trees and shelterbelts that had been lost. The AGT also acts as a clearing house where individual trusts can come together to exchange ideas, discuss problems, provide legal advice and where necessary seek a way forward. They inaugurate study days on topics of general interest and have developed regional groups for education officers. They also encourage the county trusts to host their annual conference. In 2007 the CGT was the host and, under the guidance of Jean Marcus, organised speakers and garden visits around central Cornwall. Recently the CGT had a meeting at Antony with local government officers and representatives of other conservation bodies to discuss its way forward over the next few years. AGT president Gilly Drummond came to support the venture.

Going Forward
Throughout its history the CGT has been empowered and thrust forward by the enthusiasm and hard work of its members. It has grown in stature and is respected among the conservation lobby within Cornwall and beyond. The Trust has to be thankful to the many people who have supported it but there are a few names that should be mentioned: Sir Richard Carew Pole, our President, whose support has been enormous; Tony Hibbert who drove the setting up of the Trust; June Fenwick and Daphne Lawry who between them took up the challenge to spread the work of the Trust to the public; Sir Ferrers Vyvyan who staunchly chaired the Trust for seven years, and David Oliver who has been the Treasurer for 21 years. Other names do appear in this article but it is only by re-reading the Journals and the Newsletters that one can appreciate the dedication of members and the spread of their activity. Now, under the guidance of a new chairman and with the drive of its members, the Trust is confidently looking forward to another 21 years.

Chairmen of the Cornwall Gardens Trust

  • Mr Richard (later to be Sir Richard) Carew Pole 198891
  • Mr Philip Macmillan Browse 199193
  • Mrs June Fenwick 199398
  • Mrs Margaret Green 19982001
  • Sir Ferrers Vyvyan 200108
  • Dr Angela Stubbs 2008

Secretaries of the Cornwall Gardens Trust

  • T. Hibbert with Margaret Miles as administrator 198890
  • Mrs Daphne Lawry 19902001
  • Peter Fairbank 2001