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Through the looking glass

A journey of re-awakening through one of Cornwall’s most magical and mysterious estates.


Words by Hannah Tapping


Turn back the clock to 1914. Heligan was a thriving, thousand-acre estate, a verdant jewel in the crown of Cornwall’s south coast. However, as the men of Cornwall were called up to fight in WWI, Heligan lost its workforce and over the coming years the bramble and ivy tendrils threaded their way over the estate drawing it into a deep hibernation.


Dutch-born archaeologist, songwriter and producer Sir Tim Smit, who would later co-found the Eden Project, was the man who was to awake Heligan from its slumber. In bringing Heligan back to its former glory, it was important that it bear witness to the 13 heroic gardeners who left for the battlefields, of which only four returned. The focus here would be unlike any of the traditional restorations of similar estates. It was to be a living, breathing horticultural story of those who had worked there.


Today, The Lost Gardens of Heligan enchant all those who set foot along her paths and trails. The award-winning restoration of the Productive Garden now provides the Heligan Kitchen with over 300 varieties of predominantly heritage fruit vegetables, salads and herbs. Donning a more sophisticated cloak, the Pleasure Grounds are more formal in their nature with paths passing historic plantings and romantic structures.


In contrast, the innovative Jungle has a microclimate five degrees warmer than the Northern Gardens and plays host to exotic plants gathered by Victorian plant hunters and more recent collectors from across the globe. Unfettered by needing to adhere to a period, the Jungle is constantly evolving, where the only limits are the imaginations of the those who tend it. The wider estate is home to Heligan’s iconic living sculptures; the Giant’s Head, Mud Maid and Grey Lady, who make their silent home along ancient woodland paths. At every turn, natural follies reveal themselves.


Heligan is not one to stand still and a programme of events runs throughout the year using the glorious gardens as its backdrop. From family events to Lost Suppers, and Heligan’s infamous Night Garden, a visit here is a journey of discovery through time, nature and beyond.



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