The Lost Gardens of Heligan… found, for your pleasure!

The story of Heligan Gardens could not fail to capture your imagination.  Once a garden of such beauty, neglected & left to ruin until its rediscovery 20 years ago when, in a tiny forgotten room, buried under fallen masonry was found a motto etched into the wall  “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber” with the names of those who worked there signed under the date – August 1914. It was this that inspired the team to bring the gardens back to life and to tell the story of the ‘ordinary’ folk who had made the gardens so magnificent, before departing for the Great War.  The Heligan Gardens team have remained true to that intent and after all these years and all the visits I have made to the garden, the magic still lies in this place.

I was lucky to visit on a glorious day, the sun was blazing and the garden was at its best.  The tunnel of climbers at the entrance act like a little time capsule, transporting you into a haven of beauty and taking you back to times forgotten (and to the café – yummo! But more of that later!…)

On arrival, I met Greg who manages the front of house alongside Jah who is Catering Manager.  They had finished the busy lunch time shift and so Greg took me on a little tour of the garden on our way down to the new ice cream hut.  I was pleasantly surprised to find just how knowledgable and passionate Greg was about the garden and it’s story.  On our travels, we passed through the walled garden with its magnificent flower display…

…past the pineapple pits where I was lucky enough to see a pineapple at it’s ‘pink’ stage.  The pineapple plants at Heligan yield about five fruits in total each year according to Greg and they look magnificent…

…and down to the Stewardry which provides a lovely refreshment ‘pit stop’ for those taking the gardens at a more leisurely pace…

…on the shaded path to The Stewardry lies another beauty, but not of the floral kind, a little green ice cream hut that blends in with the undergrowth perfectly and almost looks like it grew out of the soil alongside its Rhododendron neighbours!  Heligan serve a selection of waffle cones or tubs and seven different flavours of ice cream both in the main tearooms and from the little green hut.  They are unusual in that some of the more exotic flavours of ice cream outsell the longstanding favourites of Vanilla, Strawberry and Chocolate which is quite refreshing; they obviously attract a clientele who are more adventurous in their food choices than the average!

The main tearoom lies near the entrance and serves a good selection of hot and cold food as well as homemade cakes and bakes.  Heligan have a great reputation for selecting and using as much Cornish produce as they can,  theys use Lobbs Farm Shop (see next week’s blog) and Kittows of Fowey for their meat, Wing Fish of St Mawes, Atlantis Foods in Grampound for smoked fish and ham, Hanson Fine Foods for cheese, Boddingtons Jams, Westcountry Fruit & Veg, The Eden Project grow some salad crops for them, the list goes on…

They also stock a range of local foods in the Heligan to Go area and in their shop to take home.

As Autumn draws closer, Heligan will turn their attentions to the Harvest Festival display which takes place from Friday 26th October to Sunday 4th November 10am – 5pm.  It is a showcase of all the wonderful diversity of flowers, fruit and vegetables that they have produced – presented in the most beautiful display.  The tearoom serves homemade seasonal dishes, which also reflect this theme, using the fruits of the Heligan gardener’s labours.  In fact, Heligan try and use as much of the produce and livestock from the garden as possible in their tearooms and become more self-sufficient by the year.  This year, they are using beef cuts from their own herd of Dexters, their Cornish Black pigs, Wiltshire Horn sheep and are even rearing their own turkeys for Christmas and there are lots more plans in the pipeline.

I only covered a tiny part of Heligan’s grounds on my visit.  There is so much to see and so much history to soak up on your way around. The food is beautiful and the ethos behind it, really genuine.  Definitely one of my favourite places to visit in Cornwall and a fab destination for a Cornish ice cream.

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