The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall is Europe’s largest restoration project. Amazingly, its history dates back to more than 400 years ago.
In the 18th and 19th century, Heligan was a thriving, self-sufficient community. This all changed in the 1970s when Heligan House was converted to flats and sold off, separate from its surrounding gardens and estate.
The gardens and estate experience decades of neglect. They were lost, consigned to overgrowth and decay. However, in 1990, Heligan was discovered and reawakened by a budding archaeologist called Tim Smit.
Overgrowth was cut back, priceless veteran plant specimens were uncovered, buildings were restored, and the traditional horticultural practices and intriguing history of Heligan was thoroughly researched.
Today, more than 20 gardeners and estate workers continue to care for Heligan in the way that Tim and his original team of workers once did. They continue to cultivate the walled gardens, grow Heritage fruit and vegetables and farm traditional livestock breeds.
To see everything at Heligan would undoubtedly take days. I only had a couple of hours but it was enough to get a taste at least of both The Heligan Estate and The Gardens.
The Heligan Estate showcases the lost world of charcoal production, a beautiful array of flowers and an abundance of wildlife across ancient pastures, hay meadows and woodlands.
The farm houses many rare and Heritage breeds of pigs, poultry and cattle. As I was visiting in Spring, I was also treated to the sight of baby lambs jumping around the fields.
On my walk around The Estate, I also spotted a variety of bird species feeding and interacting with one another. While the Wildlife Hide gave me the opportunity to watch live footage of Heligan’s famous barn owls.
Within the 60 acres of traditionally managed woodland on The Estate also sits Heligan’s iconic mud sculptures: The Giant’s Head, The Mud Maid and The Grey Lady. Each sculpture emerges silently from the natural landscape, and boasts craftsmanship and imagination.
A particularly peaceful area of The Estate is the Lost Valley, featuring charming ponds and beautiful wildflowers – not forgetting The Charcoal Sculpture, created by Corish sculptor James Eddy to depict growth and decay.
Another highlight buried deep within the Estate is The Jungle. Here, intimate pathways are edged by a riot of luxuriant foliage, impressive trees, exotic plans and beautiful views. The Jungle also boasts one of the longest Burmese rope bridges in Britain.
The Kitchen Garden in The Gardens area of Heligan was pretty bare when I visited, but it still had a sense of beauty and romance about it. Heligan’s resident scarecrow Diggory was also standing stall in the middle of the empty soil.
The rest of The Gardens was lovely. Historic glasshouses? Traditional tools shed? The head gardener’s office? All there. There’s also plenty of secret gardens hidden deep within The Gardens, featuring old sundials, wishing wells and other water features, among more.
I didn’t get any food or drink during my visit to Heligan, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of options available – and good options too. The Heligan Kitchen & Bakery serves home-cooked dishes made from fresh Heligan produce, home reared meat and locally sourced ingredients. Yum!
I also didn’t buy anything during my visit to Heligan, but there is a large shop and plant centre which sell a variety of products and plants, respectively.
If you’re a nature enthusiast with a penchant for mystery and romance, do visit The Lost Gardens of Heligan. It’s a truly beautiful place with lots to explore all year round.
Have you been to Heligan or any other noteworthy gardens around the world? Let me know below!