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Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010
Twenty years on for Cornwall's Heligan Gardens
Heligan's Gardeners in 1900
Heligan had plenty of gardeners in its Victorian heyday

Twenty years ago one of the UK's most popular gardens were rediscovered

It is 20 years since the lost gardens at Heligan were rediscovered and started their journey to become the largest garden restoration project in Europe.

Today the more than 200 acres of The Lost Gardens of Heligan are a paradise for the explorer, plant lover and romantic.

Cornwall's Heligan is now the most visited private garden in the UK.

Arch to the Italian Garden
Heligan boasts more than 200 acres of gardens

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, overlooking Mevagissey on the South Cornish Coast were discovered on February 16th, 1990 by former record producer Tim Smit and John Willis, a descendant of the Tremayne family who's mysterious and romantic family estate this once was.

In its Victorian heyday, with its burgeoning productive gardens, exotic 'jungle' and classical set pieces it was one of the most important estates.

The departure of the gardeners to the Great War was the beginning of the end.

Few would return and heartbroken, John Claude Tremayne, the last of the resident garden builders left, never to return.

The gardens and estate would thereafter gently decline until they sank beneath a blanket of brambles and ivy to be forgotten by all but a few.

In Tim Smit's book about the garden's discovery and restoration he says:

"It was the silence, the unearthly silence that struck you first.

"Having crawled on hands and knees, climbed, cut, pulled and pushed our way through to the far side of the hedge, we had to let our eyes adjust to the daylight and reflect on the sight that greeted us.

Today's gardeners
Heligan's gardeners are kept busy maintaining the popular site

"There were brambles snaking everywhere. Thickly matted to chest height, they ensnared all the trees and shrubs, at times seeming to defy gravity as they arched across open space like angel hair on a Christmas tree."

It wasn't the plant collections or the fabulous and derelict glasshouses that captured Tim Smit's imagination. It was the human story, of a Marie Celeste, a stage on which generations had played out their lives, everywhere you looked you could see signs of lives interrupted.

Twenty years on, Heligan doesn't stand still. There are new additions which can be seen, in the forms of a recently installed kingfisher nesting bank and a sustainably built Barn Owl Tower, both fitted with a range of cameras to capture the activities.

The Northern Gardens will also see new developments this year as the Sundial Garden is replanted in a traditional style, ready to stun visitors in the summer, and plans for adding to the formal elements of the Italian Garden are being finalised.

Essential Information

Heligan is open everyday except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Main Season (April-September): 10.00 am ­ 6.00 pm (last tickets 4.30pm)

Winter (October-March): 10.00 am ­ 5.00 pm (last tickets 3.30pm)

Click here to find out more.


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