Arriving at a garden by boat feels exotic, even if it’s a chain ferry and I’m in the driver’s seat of my Citroen C1, rather than a luxury cabin! From the Roseland, where I’m staying, a ride across the Fal River on the King Harry Ferry cuts about 25 minutes and 15 miles off a drive to the National Trust house and garden at Trelissick. Beyond the cars parked in front of you on the five minute crossing you can see a steep wooded bank, screening from view a very beautiful garden, the entrance to which is just a short uphill drive from the slipway. The conical-roofed water tower topped with a squirrel weather-vane near the entrance is now a holiday let.
As the guide explained when I went into the house after touring the garden, Trelissick is all about the views. Set on a sloping site, there are several viewing platforms accessible from the high path around the perimeter of the garden, from one of which you can watch the progress of the ferry back and forth and hear the percussive rhythm of its chain mechanism.
The wisterias covering the walls of the Entrance Walk are poised to bloom within the week and are going to be spectacular.
A huge stand of vivid scarlet Rhododendron ‘Cornish Red’ draws you towards the sloping Main Lawn which is dominated by a multi-trunked conifer planted in 1898, Cryptomeria japonica. But I was drawn down the slope to see the tall tree festooned with loose clusters of creamy flowers on elegant stalks: Drimys winteri which hails from Chile and Argentina and is sometimes called winter’s bark or winter cinnamon.
Azaleas in yolky yellow clash with neighbouring pink rhododendrons, but the effect is uplifting rather than grating. All the same, its more restful on the eye along woodland paths where tree ferns look perfectly at home, very different to the cosseted, winter-fleeced specimens in the gardens of south-west London which tend to emerge from their winter overcoats looking a bit ragged.
Bluebells and white Narcissi bring freshness to the under-storey of the Hydrangea Walk. I enjoyed seeing the way the Rhododendrons have been pruned, with the crown lifted to reveal the sinuous structure of the stems and trunks. Eau de nil filigree clusters of lichen attach to tree trunks and branches, indicating the purity of the atmosphere.
The low pH soil which supports the acid-loving plants like Azaleas and Rhododendrons, also encourages a member of the blueberry species, Vaccinium retusum, which has self-seeded along some of the woodland paths. The views open out again on the return leg of the circuit, with panoramas of tranquil parkland grazed by cattle against the backdrop of the Fal estuary, otherwise known as the Carrick Roads. The garden is separated from the park by a ha-ha.
In the house I learnt that the most recent owners were Ronald and Ida Copeland, who gave the property to the National Trust in 1955. Ronald came from the Copeland-Spode ceramics family and Ida was an MP, elected to represent Stoke-on-Trent in 1931. Both were active in the scout and guiding movement, counting Lord Baden-Powell as a family friend. I was told that the rhododendrons illustrated on a China service on display in the drawing room, now a very comfortable sitting area for the cafe with a magnificent river view, were picked fresh in the morning and sent by rail to Stoke, to be copied by the factory’s artists.
Visit completed, I caught the ferry back to the peaceful enclave of the Roseland,