Heligan is undoubtedly one of Cornwall’s most famous attractions and although it’s been written about hundreds if not thousands of times, a list of Cornwall’s best gardens would look very odd without it. The sheer scale and diversity of the Lost Gardens of Heligan are astonishing; the team there has been steadily restoring and expanding for over 20 years now and there’s far more to see than a single day’s visit can encompass.
Even the names of the individual areas give a sense of intrigue and excitement: The Lost Valley, The Pleasure Grounds, The Alpine Ravine, The Jungle. It all adds to the other-worldliness that is such a big part of the Heligan experience and which seems to culminate in the giant rhubarb plants that tower above children’s heads. Huge tree ferns, banana plantations and a microclimate that often causes temperatures to sit 5 degrees above those outside of Heligan make you question whether you’re really in Cornwall at all – and then you find pineapples growing in the Victorian gardens (amongst 200-plus varieties of heritage fruits and vegetables) for a real dose of the surreal.
Heligan has a long and chequered history. The original manor was built way back in the 13th century and Heligan remained in the same family for many generations as the gardens were developed and collections of exotic plants established. During the First World War, the estate was used as a convalescence hospital for soldiers, followed by a US army base in the Second World War. During the 1970s, the house was divided into flats and sold off, and the gardens were neglected until their re-discovery in 1990. As you wind your way through the hundreds of acres of estate, there’s plenty of information about the many changes but for many just soaking up the atmosphere is enough.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan has everything you’d expect for a full day out – cafes, shops (including a great farm shop next door) and good wheelchair and pushchair access to much of the estate. The estate manager leads regular guided walks around Heligan, perfect for those who really want the behind-the-scenes secrets.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are near St Austell, close to the south coast of Cornwall. We recommend making an early start for your visit and spending a full day there to explore. Open all year round, spring is a favourite time to visit for the mass of bluebells and the famous National Collection of Camellias and Rhododendrons in bloom.
Lost Gardens of Heligan
Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall, PL26 6EN, Tel. 01726 845100