(A story read at the Family Service on 7th May 2017)
This is a true and inspiring story about how the one of the most beautiful and magical gardens in the country was lost and then found again. Like many stories it has both sad and happy bits and it has people with great ideas who want to create something beautiful and work with the earth.
The story begins many hundreds of years ago in the beautiful county of Cornwall. A family called the Tremaynes owned some land near the sea, which had deep wooded valleys and amazing views out to sea and like many wealthy families in that area they decided they’d like to create a very special garden.
The climate is a little warmer ... and wetter ... in Cornwall than it is around here and is just perfect for plants. They grow very fast and get very big and there aren’t many cold frosty nights to damage them. The Tremayne family loved plants, especially unusual ones and asked plant hunters to travel around the world looking for unusual specimens so that they could have a garden like no other.
Over many, many years – perhaps 200 or more – the garden did indeed become quite spectacular and people would come to visit from all over the country to enjoy all the different areas of the garden that were created. There were melon and pineapple gardens, orchards full of different fruits, long, long borders of flowers, Japanese gardens, Italian gardens, winter gardens and summer ones, huge rockeries and jungle-like valleys where you could almost feel you were in Africa! It was a very special place indeed.
The team of gardeners who looked after it were very proud of it too. They loved to work together as a team creating a place of such unique beauty. One hundred years ago there were 22 gardeners working there – all with their own special jobs from the head gardener (whose word must be obeyed straightaway!) right down to the young lad whose job was to keep the pineapples and melons warm by piling fresh horse manure around them day after day!
Now just over 100 years ago, in 1914, something rather terrible happened which you may already know about. A war started which came to be known as the Great War, though there was nothing great about it. Ordinary men from all around the country were called upon to go and fight. So it was that the happy team of gardeners from Heligan had to leave their beloved garden, their homes and families and go off to war.
This, I’m afraid, is the sad part of the story, for war is cruel and 16 of these talented and gentle gardeners were killed and never came back home. And for those that did manage to survive, well they rather lost heart and felt quite changed by all that had happened to them and, after the war was over, they ended up going to work in completely different jobs.
So it was that those amazing gardens became overgrown and quite forgotten about. In the warm, wet Cornish weather the brambles and weeds grow very quickly too and in no time the wonderful garden had completely disappeared from view. The greenhouse glass broke, the garden walls fell down and the valleys of exotic plants were completely buried. It was rather like the story of Sleeping Beauty; the garden fell into a deep slumber, everything buried under a tangle of thorns, its beauty lost to view.
The Tremayne family had also left the house during the war as it became a convalescence home for wounded soldiers and they too never came back. The house was let out to tenants who never knew about the hidden treasure of a garden lying under the brambles.
So now fast forward to 1990 when the ownership of the house came to a man called John Willis, a distant member of the Tremayne family. He remembered from tales in his family that there was once a special garden near the house he now inherited and he went to explore. How sad he was when he went to look – it seemed that nothing was left and he really thought that nothing could be done.
But, just by chance (if indeed anything happens by chance!) at that time he met three determined men, Tim Smit, John Nelson and Robert Poole. He got into a conversation about his newly-acquired garden and they were intrigued to find out more. So they headed off to Cornwall with John to see the gardens.
What a state they were in – he hadn’t been kidding! It would make most people’s hearts sink and they’d solemnly shake their heads and say that nothing could be done. But not our intrepid gang! They began to chop their way in with machetes. No paths were visible; only the tantalising tops of palm trees hinted at what lay underneath. It was on cutting their way into the big walled garden and seeing a giant vine weaving in and out of the broken panes of glass that they realised that they really had found a ‘sleeping beauty’ and they decided that they were definitely the princes to awaken her from her slumbers.
They found old plans of the garden and began to cut out the paths first of all. They hacked and they slashed and they dug and they cleared. Come on – one step at a time they said. As they were working one of their little dogs suddenly disappeared under the brambles. To their surprise a distant bark then seemed to come from a great distance below them. The poor little dog had survived a fall of about 80 feet and they realised they had found the lost rockery!
What an amazing time it was! As the story spread of what they were doing, more and more people volunteered to come along to help. Channel 4 decided to make a television series about what was happening and soon the whole country began to be inspired. And in less than 2 years of work (very hard work!) the gardens were opened to the public once again for people to come and enjoy them.
So this story just goes to show that if you put your mind something, well anything is possible! You can inspire millions by what you decide to do!
There is something so magical about a garden, something so special that the people in this true story were prepared to work extremely hard both at first to create and then to recreate this beautiful place. Not only that but many, many people now come from all over the world to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan and to enjoy their special beauty and magic!