Caerhays Estate named Garden of the Year

Caerhays Estate, the Cornwall home of world-famous camellia and rhododendron collections, has won the Historic Houses Association's 2016 Garden of the Year award.

Caerhays in March. (C) Caerhays Estate
Caerhays in March. (C) Caerhays Estate

Caerhays Castle and gardens are nestled above Porthluney Cove. The 120-acre historic gardens are designated a Grade II*-listed park and garden and considered of outstanding importance by The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew.

The woodland oasis flourishes under the care of head gardener Jaimie Parsons and owner Charles Williams, whose great-grandfather J.C Williams, along with plant hunters Ernest Wilson and George Forrest, laid the foundations of the garden.

Throughout their travels across China, Wilson and Forrest sent back a wealth of exotic and exciting plant species such as Chinese rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias, azaleas and acers facilitating the extensive hybridisation efforts for which the garden is celebrated. Many of these plants were previously unknown in Western Europe and a large number can still be appreciated at Caerhays more than a century later.

Williams said it was a "great honour" for the work of four generations - and the four talented head gardeners that have been at Caerhays since 1987 - to be recognised with the HHA award (now in its 32nd year).

"A woodland garden like Caerhays never stands still and is never 'complete' but this is certainly a key moment in the history and development of the plant collections here."

Richard Compton, president of the Historic Houses Association, said the garden had always had a strong tradition of rare plant collection and he was delighted Caerhays had won the award.

"The beautiful gardens and their striking views are enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year and continue to thrive under the direction of the current owners and their team. I hope this national recognition means many more people will visit this special place."

Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie's UK which sponsors the award, commented: "It is with great pleasure that we congratulate Caerhays Castle Gardens on winning the respected Garden of the Year Award, awarded by the HHA and sponsored by Christie's. Presenting a unique opportunity to recognise some of the country's most outstanding gardens, the award is a testament to the passion and care of the Williams family and their team in their efforts to nurture these historically and botanically significant gardens."

Caerhays is open to visitors from 22 February - 19 June.


J.C. Williams bought his first 25 Chinese rhododendrons from the Veitch nursery in Exeter in 1903. The 1905 Garden Book at Caerhays records the first of these new Chinese specimens, which had been collected by Wilson, being planted on the hillside above the castle.

In 1906 the creation of the garden was well under way with over 50 new species of rhododendrons planted. By 1911 thousands of packets of seeds were being shipped to Caerhays where Williams's team of over 50 gardeners worked tirelessly to create small sheltered planting coups, nestled together to replicate the native environment of the Szechwan and Yunnan mountains.

The arrival of the seeds provided the opportunity for Williams and his successors, Charles and Julian Williams, to implement an extensive programme of hybridisation which continues to shape the ever-expanding landscape of Caerhays.

One the garden's greatest treasures is the free-flowering and easy to grow x williamsii strain of camellias from 1923. This originates from Williams's cross between the single red Camellia japonica, which arrived at Caerhays in 1902, and two pink forms of Camellia saluenensis which were discovered by George Forrest in March 1918.

The first hybrids were named after his wife Mary Christian and himself. The subsequent generations of x williamsii camellias are now available in thousands of varieties throughout the world, including Camellia 'Caerhays' and Camellia 'George Blandford'.

In 1955 head gardener Philip Tregunna continued the tradition and successfully raised Magnolia 'Caerhays Surprise' which produces pink flowers at five years of age, unlike many tree magnolias which can take up to 40 years to flower.

The legacy continues to this day, led by Charles Williams, head gardener Jaimie Parsons and their team. Their work includes the most recent addition, a hybrid magnolia which flowers in an rich pink bloom known as M. 'Caerhays Splendour'.

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