I went down to Cornwall, a most wonderful place. Not England at all!Barry Humphries (1934-2023). BBC Radio 4 ‘Desert Island Discs’ 24 May 2009
Following in the footsteps of Barry Humphries who sadly died on Saturday, I’ve arrived this afternoon in south Cornwall to explore some of the great gardens in the area. Leaving the main roads, I was immediately struck by the density of vegetation on either side of the famously narrow country lanes: primroses, bluebells on the brink of opening, harts-tongue ferns, arum lilies. At the foot of these Cornish hedges (described on the Cornwall Council website as resembling a vertical flower meadow), I glimpsed an abundance of wild garlic. Cornish hedges are often ancient structures built of stone which over centuries have accumulated a covering of soil making them perfect habitats for a wealth of native plants. Not to mention birds, invertebrates and mammals.
My first stop en route to the cottage I’ve rented was the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery. It is situated on the side of the River Fowey valley with a series of terraces looking west across the valley to Restormel Castle, an English Heritage site. Whilst enjoying the view I spotted a pair of choughs flying gracefully above the trees in the middle distance, distinguishable from other members of the crow family by their finger-like wing feathers.
The nursery site was once a slate quarry and has been cleverly landscaped to include plant sales areas as well as themed gardens and a high terrace where snacks and coffee can be bought from the shepherd’s hut style cafe and enjoyed at nearby tables and benches. I was impressed at the vast range of high quality containers displayed on the next level of terracing. And it was a happy surprise to encounter one of the handsome Indian elephants fashioned from Lantana whose herds graced The Green and St James’s Parks in 2021 (see my blog Scenes and Herds).
The Bumblebee Garden is planted with pollinator friendly species and included a useful key to the wide range of solitary bees to be found in this country as well as tips to attract them into the garden. It was a useful reminder to read that a shallow dish with pebbles will provide the bees with water. I enjoyed the neat arrangement of raised beds in the Kitchen Garden, where herbs and edible flowers are grown for the cafe.
I’m staying on the east coast of the evocatively named Roseland Peninsula, looking across Gerrans Bay to Gull Rock. On a brief walk down the lane to the nearby Porthcurnick beach I spied developing spires of Echiums springing up at the roadside and the spent spikes of the 2022 harvest of these pollinator attracting Canary Island natives. Thick clusters of Alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum, populate the verges at the foot of the Cornish hedges and I can see red valerian growing between the stone steps leading to the upper level of this cottage. It’ll be next month before I’d expect to see it flowering in the south east.
My activities this afternoon have whetted my appetite for the treats to come when I continue my south west road trip tomorrow.
Roseland Peninsula, 24 April 2023