Words by Dan Warden
Once upon a time, and not so long ago, the garden could be defined as one of two things. Either it was given over to jungle, beyond repair and well outside the ability and time constraints of those looking mournfully upon it through the window; or, it became an arena reserved for the green-fingered, with carefully pruned roses, lovingly trimmed honeysuckle and a lawn so sedulously trimmed that to tread upon it required the blessing of those who mowed it.
Now, however, we look at our gardens differently. Whether they embrace the wild spirit of the local landscape, or don a temperament closer to that of an exhibition at the Chelsea Flower Show, as a nation, we have come to treasure them. Perhaps catalysed by the pandemic, which saw homeowners nationwide relegated to the confines of their property boundaries, the importance of an outside space that offers as much as our interiors in the way of sanctuary has never been clearer.
In reality, however, it’s a trend that’s been ticking slowly upwards for a while. Certainly, it’s one that Trevena Cross Nurseries in Breage recognised long before ‘Coronavirus’ became part of the common lexicon. And while ‘Nurseries’ is in its name, Trevena Cross is so much more than a place where young plants are grown for planting elsewhere.
An unusual hybrid of nursery and garden centre, this family-owned business of nearly five decades puts itself in a unique position. In Cornwall, it is a market leader, with a longstanding and excellent reputation for evolving with the times, adapting to the needs of its visitors and innovating within the horticultural world. With feet in both ‘nursery’ and ‘garden centre’ camps, it strikes a unique balance between the two. As a nursery, it grows more than 90% of the plants it stocks. It does so across 35 acres, and growing so much of what it sells means the team has the experience and expertise necessary not only to shape their offering to customer demand, but to advise visitors on the best plants for them and their homes. Growing on such a large scale also means that the team can provide wholesale for those who need it, supplying plants directly to the trade, even growing plants especially for landscapers and designers. And because they’re able to source and grow a range of exotic specimens, there is something at Trevena Cross for absolutely everybody, whether you’re simply seeking a flash of green in your home, or are a specialist plant enthusiast looking to add to your collection.
Being able to offer customers something that goes beyond the expected really stands Trevena Cross apart. It offers visitors the opportunity to create a garden that’s one of a kind, with scope to innovate and invigorate a space with unusual and unexpected plants. What’s more, with a growing ethos that’s inspired by owner Graham’s enthusiastic and creative approach to his own garden – ever hand-picking new varieties to try – decisions are made for this business that benefit every would-be garden improver that steps across the threshold.
Now, if you’re updating your own garden in Cornwall, you may well be fortunate enough to benefit from the unique conditions that growing close to the sea offers. Whilst many might see the poor, sandy soils near the coast as something of a disadvantage, there are, according to the team at Trevena, plenty of plants that will absolutely thrive in such conditions. Cordyline australis, for example, are available in a wide variety of different colours, although the standard green tends to be the hardiest. Corokias are another great pick for exposed coastal climes; these medium-sized shrubs from New Zealand complement other plantings very well in the coastal landscape. Other top coastal picks at Trevena Cross include Callistemons, with their unique blooms bringing something different to the traditional Cornish garden, and Convolvulus cneorum, with their pretty funnel-shaped white flowers and attractive, silvery foliage.
Compared to more inland positions, those close to the sea generally offer a milder environment that’s less prone to frost. This opens up the possibility to step into the world of sub-tropical plantings, introducing a piece of the Mediterranean to your garden, or even a snippet from the desert. Assuming that you account for good drainage, a wide range of succulents like Agaves, Aloes and Aeoniums will sit happily along with Cacti for a low-maintenance desert feel. These are especially popular in line with the recent trend of ‘convenient gardening’, suiting those with busy lives that want an attractive space without the need for a great deal of maintenance. Succulents are a superb solution, providing shape, interest and colour, without the need for pruning or a regimented watering schedule. The best part is that they will take care of themselves, making them especially great additions to holiday homes and second homes, either in pots, baskets or rockeries.
For that Mediterranean vibe, Graham and his team of horticulturalists recommend combining big statement plants like palm trees, Trachycarpus fortunei or Chamaerops humilis, or perhaps an Olea europaea (olive tree). Again, good drainage is a must, especially for olive trees, but provided that’s taken care of, you’ll find that these large specimen trees have a sense of grandeur that’s simply incomparable. It is, however, important that you source specimens that have enjoyed years of slow, unforced growth. Fortunately, Trevena Cross brings over a container load (sometimes two) of large specimen trees each year, all from sustainable sources. And although not grown on site, they are certainly worth making an exception for, and to see them finding and thriving in homes across Cornwall and beyond brings immense joy to the nursery team.
As a nursery then, Trevena Cross ticks a lot of boxes, offering a level of variety, scale, versatility and expertise that’s simply not found elsewhere in the county. But what about as a garden centre? Well, the first thing to say is that it’s not all about the plants (although they do, of course, feature heavily). From exotic garden varieties and plants that thrive in Cornwall’s unique coastal climate, to an array of houseplants curated to help home owners improve their mood, improve focus and increase productivity, as you might expect, plants are the star of the show. But this is a business that’s about so much more. Again, referring back to the growing trend of outdoor living, finding new and exciting varieties to plant in our gardens is no longer a mere means of improving the view from the living room window. It’s about creating a living sanctuary out of a space in which we actually want to spend time, which is why Trevena Cross curates an excellent and diverse selection of quality garden furniture. With timber, metal and rattan sets all to be found, along with a wide selection of benches, arbours, firepits, water features, authentic chimineas and more, a garden can quickly become an extension of the traditional interior living space, and with longer summers on the horizon, that’s an increasingly attractive proposition to homeowners, especially here in Cornwall.
Of course, those visiting Trevena Cross won’t necessarily be ‘in the market’ for a new planting scheme or a brand-new set of garden furniture. In fact, many might agree that popping to the local garden centre and simply ‘having a browse’ has got to be one of the nation’s favourite sunny-day pastimes, the leafy rows of plants, the inevitable tinkling of a water feature display, the display of gifts and sundries all providing a pleasant, sensory way to while away an afternoon. This is certainly true of Trevena Cross. Its dynamic gift section includes a great selection of greetings cards, homewares and keepsakes for those without green fingers. Add to this the on-site Garden Kitchen Café, providing a leisurely means of refuelling, and whether your trip to the nursery is planned or a happy accident as you happen to drive past, it’s a standalone destination for anybody who appreciates the finer points of home and garden improvement.