An Abandoned Victorian Garden, Now Back in Brilliant Bloom

Atlas Obscura
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July 16 2014 1:05 PM

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Now Back in Bloom

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In the southwest English county of Cornwall, just outside the fishing village of Mevagissey, is a sprawling set of gardens that has bloomed back to life after being abandoned for 75 years.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan lie on an estate that has been owned by Cornwall's Tremayne family since the late 16th century. Over the ensuing generations, the more horticulturally inclined Tremayne squires developed gardens on the 200 acres of land surrounding the family home. Melons and grapes grew in the Victorian glasshouses, rhododendrons blossomed to giant proportions, and a section designated "the jungle" teemed with untamed greenery.

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All of this splendor required a lot of maintenance, which suited the wealthy Tremayne family just fine—they kept a team of gardeners on staff to keep their grounds in the majestic condition to which they'd become accustomed.

Then came the Great War. Priorities shifted dramatically. The fit, young men who tended the grounds had to put down their rakes and pick up rifles to defend the British Empire. Heligan House transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. The gardens fell into neglect, and the Tremaynes leased out their home until 1970, when it was converted into apartments and sold.

In 1990, Tremayne descendent John Willis introduced the dilapidated gardens to British businessman Tim Smit, creator of a biome eco-climate experiment known as the Eden Project. In a tiny room, buried under a fallen corner of one of the walled gardens, they found a list of signatures dated August 1914. The Heligan gardeners had come to this place to write their names before leaving to fight in the war. Most never returned.

The discovery sparked a massive restoration project, aimed at bringing the gardens back to life in honor of those who tended to them before giving their lives to war. The restored Lost Gardens of Heligan opened to the public in April 1992 and continue to flourish, their mix of manicured Victoriana and wild jungle creating a timeless place of escape.


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