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Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A day of time travelling at Caerhays Castle

On the last day of March, I went time travelling in Cornwall. I went back to the nineteen and twentieth centuries, and then forwards by about four or five weeks to early May 2017.

It's true I can assure you. So how did I do it?

I was on a one day only whizz down to near St Austell, to the wonderful Caerhays Castle and Gardens to join about fourteen other Garden Media Guild members for a private tour of the gardens.

We met mid morning in the Cornish sunshine after parking our cars down at Porthluny Beach and walking up the hill to the castle. It was built by John Nash for the Trevanion family in 1810, carefully hidden away from the beach in case of attack by the French..

The Trevanions left the castle in 1840, and the estate was later taken over by the Williams family who were in mining. The great grandfather of the current owner, J.C.Williams, who was only eighteen when he inherited the estate, financed a large plant hunting expedition in 1911. George Forrest and Ernest Wilson set sail on a trip which was to bring horticultural treasure from the Far East, from China, back to this part of Cornwall with its own micro climate.

Charles Williams, the current owner, led our expedition around the estate,with thumbstick in hand, at a cracking pace. I was still breathing heavily after rushing up the hill in the first place, but luckily he kept stopping to show us various vistas and specimens, and I eventually got my breath back.

To be fair, I was slightly overwhelmed by the sight of so many plants , many in their prime, towering over me. Caerhayes is a triumph of how to do things on a big scale, and seeing a national collection of magnolias (about four hundred and fifty of them, plus so many camellias and rhododendrons in prime condition  in 140 acres of garden and woodland, was a surprise and a delight.

I must confess I was one of the dawdlers, and yes there were a few of us. I was trying to take everything in, and take photographs too, so that I missed many of the species names. I was writing notes I believe that this is a magnolia amoena.....I just adored the shape and colour with the blush pink.

I loved this blowsy camellia reticulata dream castle

Even after flowering,as the petals fell to the ground,  the beautiful pink carpets had their own charms

I've never been a girly girly pink girl in my life but I absolutely adored seeing so many pinky hues, from the palest to the most shocking pinks....

But of course, I didn't just fall for the pinks...

Walking quickly to catch up with Charles who was introducing something ahead , I was really taken with these pretty flowers

All  of a sudden, a fragrance stopped in my tracks. I sniffed, I held a flower to my nose and inhaled deeply, there were hints of ginger and something I couldn't identify. It was quite exhilarating.

Likewise, a couple of hundred yards away, Charles was in  a slight dip, pointing to this....a michelia doltsopa....inviting us to come closer....".come on, what's this scent?" We all duly poked our noses close, I though a hint of nutmeg or mace, and Charles told me I was was cinnamon.
He calls his scented collection "the smellies , a somewhat rude term for such beautiful fragrances!

But don't get Charles talking about classifications of magnolias and michelias which are so closely related...he has definite ideas on some of these...and I believe the words "absolute bollocks" were mentioned at one stage concerning one of his favourites. I asked if this was a technical term  but he just grinned.

What was wonderful, was following in Charles's footsteps seeing his estate through his eyes, not being confined to the paths, tramping over the grass and primroses alike, as we darted hither and thither, learning much more than I dreamed possible in a couple of hours. Classification of plants, history, of how the estate was managed and how planning for the future of the castle grounds are an ever important concern.

Caerhays may have it's own microclimate in South Cornwall, but its proximity to the sea and the sea gales means that more windbreaks have to be grown. We were taken to a part of the gardens which was a corn field back in 2006. Since then, lots of laurel hedging has been put in to protect against the seaspray and salt, and now more azaleas have been planted as well as camellias and magnolias.

The gardens here aren't immune to damage. Many rhododenrons sinogrande  were lost in the drought of 1976, a japanese oak in the winter of 1963 and in 1990 , twenty five acres of garden were lost.

Charles then led us to a ridge where we stopped to gaze over the estate land which lay as far as we could see...a breath taking view, even though the sun had gone in, for those of us seeing it for the first time through rosy, romantic glasses. "It takes three months to cut the grass in these a hundred and forty acres" Charles said drily.

By now we were walking downhill, back towards the castle

We walked behind the castle, through the most inviting gate,

and found ourselves back where we had started the tour. When I said I had been time travelling a month or so, I really had. All the trees and shrubs were so much further on than in the Midlands, I was told that this year, the season is a good three weeks ahead on previous seasons and I felt as I'd missed April completely .

We wandered into the castle courtyard for lunch...most of us were hungry after early morning starts to be here. Thank goodness for cornish pasties on the menu, and we all sat chatting away madly, the way all garden fanatics and members of the Garden Media Guild do, when they've just visited somewhere with so much to look at and think about. So lovely too to be able to sit outside.

All too soon, it was time to get back on the road back north. I walked back down the hill

From the shelter of the castle, by the time I got back to the beach at Porthluny, the wind was whipping around and it was chilly with a touch of rain.  But I couldn't not come to a beach and not have a short walk on the sands, could I? Especially when I live in landlocked Leicestershire! So I did...

The perfect end to a trip to Caerhays Castle and Gardens. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to visit Burncoose Nurseries too, which is also part of the Caerhays Estate or to find out more about the cottages on the estate which are available to rent. You can even stay in a wing of the castle or in a boathouse. Next time perhaps......

But in the meantime, a lovely day in a fabulous location  with delightful people in a beautiful part of Cornwall....thanks to James Robbins from the Garden Media Guild for organising the trip.

The gardens at Caerhays Castle is open from mid February to mid June.

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