The Lost Gardens Of Heligan

The Elms Guest House, The Lost Gardens Of Heligan

Among the UK’s most popular botanical gardens, the Lost Gardens of Heligan span more than 200 acres of beautiful Cornish countryside and offer visitors the chance to explore and marvel at their 19th-century splendour.

Located near Mevagissey, the gardens exhibit the typical 19th-century style, creating a rich tapestry of colour and greenery, with areas of different designs and character. Their name in Cornish, Lowarth Helygen, translates to “willow tree garden”.



Forming part of the Cornish family’s estate, the gardens were created over several decades by the Tremayne family, beginning in the mid-18th century and continuing until the early 20th century.

The Tremaynes purchased the estate in the 16th century and early generations were responsible for Heligan House and the private garden that immediately surrounds it.

The extensive public gardens were created thanks to the efforts of four generations of the Heligan family, namely the squires of the estate, beginning with Rev Henry Hawkins Tremayne, who created the first design in 1777.

His son, John Hearle Tremayne, the High Sheriff of Cornwall, became squire after Henry’s death in 1829 and continued the work on the gardens. John Hearle’s own son, also called John, the MP for East Cornwall, took on the mantle of squire in 1851. His son, John Claude Lewis Tremayne, better known as “Jack”, became squire in 1901 and continued to develop the gardens until the outbreak of World War I.

Heligan House was used as Convalescence Hospital for the Armed Forces from 1916 to 1919 and was let out to tenants after the war. Jack Tremayne loved spending time in Italy (inspiring the beautiful Italian garden at Heligan) but he decided to move there permanently in the 1920s, leasing out his family home in Cornwall.

During World War II, Heligan House was used as a base for the American troops. The gardens had been neglected from the end of World War I and had fallen into a state of disrepair, reverting back to their former wild state, with the beautiful blooms and layout lost under a tangle of weeds.


Rediscovering the gardens

The Lost Gardens of Heligan were rediscovered in 1990, purely by chance. The real-life secret garden had been consigned to history, buried for more than 70 years. Had it not been for the great hurricane of 1990, the gardens may never have been found again.

Workers discovered a door leading to the walled gardens, after shifting tons of fallen masonry. Tim Smit, the Dutch-born businessman and archaeologist, who was one of the team involved in the clean-up operation after the hurricane, said, “Wild horses could not have stopped us opening that door!”

Smit and John Willis, a descendant of the Tremayne family, discovered the magical gardens. A professional team of workers from the BTCV group, led by John Nelson and the county horticultural advisor, Philip McMillan Browse, began the clearance work.

They painstakingly restored the gardens to their former glory to create the amazing visitor attraction we know today. The restoration was covered on the television and in books.



The gardens today include ancient colossal camellias and rhododendrons, several lakes fed by a historic pump that is more than 100 years old, the Italian garden, flower gardens and vegetable gardens, which are highly productive.

There’s a wild area filled with subtropical trees called “The Jungle”, and you will also find Europe’s only pineapple pit and two figures, known as the Giant’s Head and the Mud Maid, constructed from rocks and plants.

Visitors can discover the Victorian produce gardens and pleasure gardens along winding paths as they take a trip back in time, walking along routes built more than two centuries ago. You can rest beneath the rhododendron boughs of Sikkim and the tree ferns in New Zealand, or stroll by the Alpine-inspired ravine.


Exotic jungle

Wander through the exotic jungle area on raised boardwalks, marvelling at banana plantations, giant rhubarb plants and tunnels of tall bamboo. The jungle area hosts the most luxuriant foliage and awe-inspiring views.

The Grey Lady is waiting to be discovered on the Woodland Walk, where visitors can immerse themselves in the restful birdsong, with woodland sculptures emerging gently from the undergrowth. As a wildlife haven, the garden operates a pioneering environmental Wildlife Project to cultivate native fauna.

Enjoy morning coffee, home-cooked lunch and Cornish cream teas at the licensed Heligan Tearoom, where meals are prepared using fresh seasonal produce from the Heligan estate and fresh bread, cakes and scones from the on-site bakery.

The gardens are open daily all year, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome in the gardens.


B&B accommodation

If you’re planning to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan, B&B accommodation of the highest standard is available at The Elms Guest House, located just over five miles away from the attraction.

Give us a call on 01726 74981 or email for bookings.

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