Caerhays may justly be regarded as the most important plantsman’s garden in Cornwall.Douglas Ellory Pett ‘The Cornwall Gardens Guide’ 2003
After a very wet morning, a damp mist hung over the countryside as I drove the 10 miles to Caerhays Castle this afternoon. The guidebook informs me that Caerhays has a unique microclimate: moist sea mists cloak this woodland garden in moisture, mimicking the Chinese mountain habitats from which many of the magnolias and rhododendrons in the garden originate. The soil is very acidic and ideal for growing such plants.
The garden is described as a spring flowering garden and opens only from mid February to mid June. This afternoon I had the garden to myself! It is a collection of rare trees and shrubs, many of them grown from seeds collected by the the great Chinese plant collectors, EH Wilson and George Forrest. JC Williams (JCW), the owner of the estate replicated the densely wooded mountainsides of Yunnan province, planting the specimens close together on the steep slopes of the Caerhays estate. So keen was JCW on building up his collection of rare plants from the region that he sponsored George Forrest’s third and subsequent expeditions.
The older parts of the garden are planted on the steep slope which rises behind the large castle designed by John Nash (Brighton Pavilion and Regent Street). Most magnolias finished flowering in March, but there are still some camellias blooming as are many rhododendrons, with azaleas emerging, often exuding a sweet scent.
It is a garden in which to meander and lose oneself, with the emphasis on trees and huge shrubs. There are drifts of daffodils and Narcissi, and thousands of bluebells and wild garlic carpet the ground beneath the monumental trees and shrubs, many of which are classed as champion trees in the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland (TROBI) because of their height or girth.
The Tin Garden has been planted over the last 15 or so years in an extensive area where the ground was cleared after the loss of many trees in the great storm of January 1990. Cornwall escaped the ravages of the Great Storm in October 1997 which devastated so many trees in the South East.
I may have missed the bulk of the magnolias and drawn the short straw on the weather, but finding a treasure every few yards in this sprawling plant paradise was tremendous fun. And the soundscape of constant birdsong was joyful, including the call of the cuckoo!
Rosevine, 27 April 2023