Recorders’ group visit Gyllyngdune restoration project

Nigel Mathews arranged a visit for the recorders to see the restoration work that is being carried out at Gyllyngdune Gardens in Falmouth on 6th May 2011.  Cornwall Council is restoring the gardens originally designed and built by George Wightwick for General William Jessor Coope in 1837.

Those present were Dr Angela Stubbs (Chair of the Cornwall Gardens Trust), Nigel Mathews, Hilary Bosher, Peter Fairbank & Ianthe del Tufo.  Outside the Princess Pavillion we met the Project Manager Jon Mitchell and the Visitor and Education Officer Sarah Spiegler-Williams who took us round.

As it is a working site with contractors (working on both the gardens and the new café / bar and multipurpose space) we were issued with hard hats and safety waistcoats.

From just above the car park we were shown the space where buildings had been knocked through to make a new entrance, so the garden will be visible and easy to reach for visitors.  We were led round the works onto the first level where the verandahs have already been restored, and to where the attractive cast iron band stand was being painted.

A cheque for £750 from the Cornwall Gardens Trust was presented by Dr Angela Stubbs to Jon Mitchell to go towards the restoration of the imposing urns in the gardens.

Safe from the cold weather at the end of the verandah were everlasting echiums flowering profusely and a rare (in the UK) red Australian Protea, flowering happily and looking good.  After the visit, Hilary Bosher researched the protea and emailed the following: ‘The common name is Waratah and the botanical latin is Telopea speciosissima.  It grows in the mountains of New South Wales and is the floral emblem for NSW.’

We then moved on to the second level where a lot of work has been completed.  By the steps we saw one of the Edwardian urns and on either side magnificent palm trees that are over 100 years old.

The beds surrounding each palm have granite edging and one bed is planned to have a ‘wild’ selection of plants and the other a ‘hot’ feel.

Just beyond the palm on the west of the steps, sheltered in a corner by an old stone wall was a New Zealand rarity, a ‘Daphne Phyllum’ with its leaves just beginning to unfurl.

We were introduced to the senior gardener Howard Burns and he explained about the plans and the planting.  To the east the beds were full of roses, bedded in, waiting to be moved to their new positions.  There are to be rose arches, and we saw the handmade new arches, lying on the ground and waiting to be assembled, and looking like a the ribs of a giant monster lying on the ground!

Also on this level there will be a greenhouse, with the original backing wall.  We also saw the vast ‘vessel’ that is the important part of the rain water collection scheme.  It will be buried on the site, and the rainwater from the buildings will be used for the plants and for flushing the toilets so helping to give the garden and Princess Pavillion a positive eco rating.

To the west, on this level is a small but attractive play area with granite boulders, grass humps and wooden climbing objects.  The children from the local schools worked on the design, and on the back wall are mosaics they made relating to Cornish legends etc, and around the play area their quotations are inlaid on the surround.  We were told this had been completed before the main restoration began and was a success with the local children.

From this level it used to be a very precipitous path to get to the lower quarry below.  However some land has since been acquired and wide curved paths built, so it will now be easy for everyone to move from level to level.  We passed the folly put up by the original owners, which resembles a prehistoric arch on a mound.  It looked good with a new path and the grass well tended.

Next we passed the rather roofless shell seats (fenced for safety & waiting to be restored) and took the path down towards the bottom of the quarry and towards the road above the sea.

The entrance to the garden from Cliff Road beyond is currently closed but when Gyllyngdune Gardens reopens, the public will have easy access and be able to come through the tunnel into the bottom of the quarry.  We were told that previously the quarry was a complete jungle of brambles etc and completely inaccessible!  Now clear of the weeds, a few shrubs remain: a tall red camellia and a rhododendron and a few ferns.  It will be filled with tree ferns, various other ferns, palms etc to create a jungle area.

Opposite in the north west corner of the quarry’s stone sides is the entrance to the Shell Grotto.  A marvellous cave, completely covered with shells in geometric patterns.  Ear shells, abalone, exotic large shells with points from the South Seas, plus lots of recognisable British stalwarts: cockles, winkles, scallops, fan shells, mussels etc.  Also dividing different areas & making patterns are pieces of dark green & white marble.

After leaving the grotto we took the newly built steps up the eastern side of the quarry, which brought us back to the higher level with the roses and the ancient palms.

Altogether a fascinating visit.  I look forward to returning in August and seeing the completed Gyllyngdune Gardens in all its glory.  Thanks to Nigel Mathews for arranging the visit and many thanks to Jon and Sarah for taking us round and making it such an interesting and special occasion.

We were told of the plans to restore the shell work and that the experts will need volunteer help.  Also Glyllyngdune will shortly have lots of planting to be done and will welcome volunteers.  Anyone interested in helping should get in touch with Sarah Spiegler-Williams, or telephone: 01326 310 980

Ianthe del Tufo, Chair of Recorders’ Group