Poppy Cottage, St. Michael’s included in tour of England

Poppy Cottage, St. Michael’s included in tour of England

Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 8:02 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Thursday, Sept.1, Day 11 of Perennial Plant Association British Garden Tour
A major factor determining garden success is effective plant combinations. In other words, a plant collection does not necessarily create a gardenesque picture.
When we headed out from our hotel in Truro early on Sept. 1, we had little inkling what an object lesson on plant combos awaited at our first stop, Poppy Cottage.
Here, a small (less than one acre) narrow plot abuts a busy highway, the garden backing right up to the right-of-way, thankfully planted up with a thick screen of shrubs. An 18th Century, sure-enough cottage is amidst the garden, bulging with the finest example of plant placement and combinations of any garden we visited.
Cameras were busy as the group took an enormous number of exposures of the captivating sight. The private garden is less than 12 years old, but masters have been at work there. Included were immaculate lawns, a lot of exotic (some tropical) ingredients, rare shrubs, bulbs and the obligatory poppies.
If that weren’t enough, toward the back of the garden was a poultry coop with unusual chickens and ducks. Plentiful benches, offering pleasing vistas, abounded. We enjoyed tea and sweets offered by the hosts.
At the opposite end of the scale was the Lost Gardens of Heligan, where the many acres of gardens called for walking shoes. The site is one of the most popular botanical gardens in the United Kingdom.
The gardens, now public, were created by the Tremayne family from the mid 18th century up to the beginning of the 20th. After World War I the gardens fell into neglect, and were restored in the 1990s. The effort was the subject of television documentaries.
Heligan has the only remaining pineapple pit in Europe, where the fruits are grown over heat created by rotting horse manure. Large and productive vegetable gardens are a feature.
Most astounding, however, was a collection of camellias and rhododendrons dating to the early 20th Century. I had seen colossal old rhodos before at Stourhead on an earlier British tour, but such a sight never fails to impress, even when they are out of bloom.
We’re talking about rhododendrons 40 feet tall, with gnarled and twisted trunks two feet in diameter. One can walk under the canopy and view the trunks, some lying supine along the ground for 50 feet or more.
We were reminded of the mild climate in the Cornwall area when a wild glade came into view boasting tree ferns 20 feet tall, not winter hardy except in what would be zone 9 in this country.
Right back in our town of Truro there was Bosvigo Garden, the private garden of Wendy Perry, a friend and bridge partner of Nutty Linn, mentioned last week. The hillside garden is crammed full of color, and we enjoyed a special treat with a tour of the house, built in 1138 (that’s right, two ones). It has been featured in television history documentaries.
Again, tea and cakes were served in the “old kitchen” in a lower level.
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Next day, we “suffered” under a heat wave of 75° F. The locals were basking in the sun on the warmest day of our tour.
We traveled just about as far west as you can go and still be in Britain, to the mouth of the English Channel near Land’s End. There, commanding the historically crucial entrance to the channel stands St. Michael’s Mount.
About 400 yards offshore a granite island rears more than 400 feet upward and standing regally atop is an ancient castle, the present residence of Lord St. Levan. Even before the castle was built, there were monastic buildings there as early as the 12th Century.
The archangel Michael is said to have visited some fishermen there in the 5th Century, thus the name. The island can be reached at high tide only by a launch, which we took. When we returned from our visit the tide was out and we walked on huge granite sets forming a causeway to the mainland.
The geographic history of the mount is interesting. Since before the common era (BC) the Phoenicians are believed to have traded for tin with the British there for alloying with copper to smelt bronze. During World War II the mount was fortified against German invasion which, of course, never happened. Some of the fortifications are yet extant.
Adolf Hitler’s henchman Joachim von Ribbentrop had visions of taking up residence there once Britain was subdued. Judges at Nuremberg had different ideas and the gallows interfered with his plans.
We were able to tour inside and outside the castle after a grueling climb to the top of the mount. Upon our descent we visited a very old cemetery holding the remains of some historical figures. As Ron Hoffman, the tour’s official punster, and I gazed over an iron fence at the centuries-old markers, Ron observed, “What we have here is a grave situation.” I wish I’d said that.
Next: Last day out, home to our burned out garden, and a heavy dose of Valium.
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Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 11.8.11

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