Heligan’s Rescued Gardens
What to call a place that uniquely honours gardeners that lost their lives in World War One?
Sometimes leadership refers to committees for answers, and sometimes there is no choice, with heritage and government departments providing no options. Occasionally however, land tenure, ownership, bureaucracy and process can be separated from the creative influencers that drive inspirational projects, resulting in an enticing name being found – encouraging visitors, viewers, actors, and restorationists alike…
Where would you prefer to spend time – ‘Heligan Manor Garden’, ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’, ‘Heligan’s Rescued Gardens’, or ‘Tremayne’s Legacy’?
Well, now 350,000 people visit the Lost Gardens every year, and gratefully, neither the visitors or the gardens have been lost, they have been found and inspired in their refurbishment. So clearly the name works, and every year, new generations are attracted to the gardens and subsequently, and maybe surprisingly, inspired to consider people who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan was recommended to me before I understood there was a familial relationship between the Eden Project and the Gardens (hence the Milk Maid link in the Eden Project story).
Being proximal in Cornwall and jointly marketed, and jointly led by Sir Tim Smit, means that inevitably the Rescued Gardens are put on the same platform as the Engineered Gardens of the Eden Project for consideration and comparison. Don’t worry for a second.
The Rescued Gardens are seemingly punching way above their weight – it is clear that the Rescued Gardens probably haven’t yet had the 100M+quid invested in them that the Eden Project has. With Eden returning some 800,000 visitors per year, and Heligan some 350,000 visitors per year, it is worth considering whether the additional 100M quid is worth the Return on Investment for the amount spent and the relative impact delivered (especially the number of visitors/annum per spend). Of course it cannot be a clear-cut comparison, because like us, many visitors are on a ‘joint-ticket’.
And the bigger picture is that, together, these projects have helped revitalise an ailing Cornwall economy, and put Cornwall on the world stage (along with their Pasty, Ice-cream and clotted cream – don’t ask me about the creams, but I am all-over the Pastys).
So what brings 350,000 people every year?
The former Tremayne Estate has a lovely warm human scale about the experience – the entrance past a farm shop, a post box, the low-key visitor reception, and then the rambling experience options – perfectly calibrated to people on a wandering explore – probably like most visitors.
A central theme is that of remembrance, reverance and recognition of the lives lost in World War One. Gardeners who once tended to the estate, were lost in trenches across the channel (and the original gardens were let to go ‘feral’ thereafter – enabling the rejuvenation project).
The links are starkly made in Tim’s book about the project, where, within a few days, he discovers an honour-roll of proud gardeners etched in the woodwork of the decrepit Thunderbox at Heligan, and then shockingly finds the same names on stone war memorials in surrounding towns.
Seeing the memorial Poppy Field in full bloom is, I reckon, worth the trip back. Those gardeners must be proud, and while I am sure they appreciate the stone memorials, one must surely believe they would be chuffed with the Restored Garden that now honours them.
So what about todays gardeners?
What started as a garden marketed to UK garden-lovers, has grown into a place for all-comers, with a particular flavour for families with young children (especially my girls who loved the fantasy angles of the artwork). The story-based interpretation elements are done beautifully, and the Mud Maid, in particular, is worth the trip alone. For a return-on-investment, this lady is through the roof!
An events program encompassing static and roaming plays (engaging local theatre companies); seasonal harvest festivals; Christmas markets and storytelling – keep locals coming back and gives annual and one-off tourists ever-new reasons to visit.
So what is in a name?
The name Lost Gardens magnificently and simultaneously represents the lost gardeners that were once its stewards, balanced with the opportunity for refurbishment, restoration and most importantly, re-invigoration . These things give us hope for the future while reflecting on the potential that the past has generously afforded us.
The only trite lingering question – who lives in the Heligan house overseeing it all, what do they think, and how might they be influencing the future development and generation of the Rescued Gardens?
This is definitely an experience to add to the #bucketlist – up very high.