The gardens at Heligan, had slowly slipped into decline after the estate’s gardeners had left to fight in the First World War and became overgrown with brambles and ivy. They were re-discovered in 1990 by Sir Tim Smit, a record producer who had moved to Cornwall, and John Willis, a direct descendant of the Tremayne Family for whom Heligan has been the family estate for over 400 years.
Together with John Nelson, a local builder, they set about bringing the gardens back to life.
Smit said: "Our discovery of a tiny room, buried under fallen masonry in the corner of one of the walled gardens, was to unlock the secret of Heligan’s demise. A motto etched into the limestone walls in barely legible pencil still reads "Don’t come here to sleep or to slumber" with the names of those who worked there signed under the date – August 1914.
"When finding Heligan, we were fired by a magnificent obsession to bring these once glorious gardens back to life and to tell, for the first time, not tales of lords and ladies but of those "ordinary" people who had made these gardens great, before departing for the Great War."
The Lost Gardens of Heligan opened to the public in 1992 and now feature a National Collection of Camellias and Rhododendrons, the Victorian Productive Gardens and Pleasure Grounds sitting alongside winding paths originally laid out over two centuries ago and a Sub-tropical Outdoor Jungle, Orchard and Ancient Woodlands.
Heligan managing director George Elworthy said: "The re-discovery of the gardens 25 years ago began a mammoth project of restoration which has been a voyage of discovery for many of us. Heligan is different to most garden restorations, it is a living, breathing entity and not just a museum piece. It continues to thrive, and evolve, in remembrance to the gardeners whose lives were cut short when they left it to go to war."
The story continues too, we’ve recently been joined by Iain Davies as Head of Gardens and Estate, who will help shape the next stage in the garden’s history."
Davies said: "A garden is a living thing and our vision for Heligan’s future is to continue its development, just as the gardeners that served the Heligan Estate in the past would have done. In the Productive Gardens we will continue using traditional practices and heritage varieties whilst in the Jungle we’ll continue to combine ‘the best of the old’ with ‘the best of the new’ and introduce new and exciting plants with the same passion as the Victorian plant hunters did. Heligan’s restoration is ongoing and has seen many new arrivals this year in the form of traditional livestock breeds, with over 200 acres to manage, there’s still plenty more challenges ahead."