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12 March 2020

The Best Gardens in Cornwall

by Jo Le Bon

There are few simple pleasures more uplifting and life-affirming than losing yourself in the best gardens in Cornwall. Lucky for us, then, that Cornwall has more than most parts of the UK. For that, we should thank the county’s mild, sub-tropical climate but also those super-rich 19th-century tin mining families who commissioned spectacular landscaped grounds, packed with exotic trees and gorgeous blooming shrubs. If any of this sounds like your thing, you’re in for a treat when you stay at Three Mile Beach. Here are my absolute favourites – closest to home first.

Our top tips

Number one: always double-check opening times on the day. Number two: be sure to pick up a ‘Great Gardens of Cornwall’ leaflet and get it stamped on your first visit to get discounted entry to any of the others (apart from Enys).

Godolphin Estate, Godolphin Cross

This beautiful National Trust property was featured in the original Poldark series, back in the 70s (which, of course, I don’t remember). Sadly, the house itself is only open on selected weekends, but you can always access the Stables and the King’s Room.

In any case, it’s the surroundings I love. There are the lovely formal gardens, with their riot of roses and cottage garden flowers, and there are pretty meadows and gorgeous woods beyond. If you’re here in April or early May, the woodland bluebell spectacular is a must. And, if you fancy a bracing walk, there are immense views from the top of Godolphin Hill.

There are often activities for families, especially during holiday periods. We liked the Barefoot Trail and the Mud Kitchen (ideal if your kids get a kick out of being covered in mud).

As with most NT properties, there’s a top-notch café, appropriated housed in the ‘Old Piggery’, where you can indulge in a cream tea or hearty slice of cake after your explorations.

How far? 20-minute drive.

When can I go? Estate and gardens open daily, except Christmas Day.

Dogs allowed? Free to roam the estate, including Godolphin Hill, but slip the lead on in the gardens.

Here’s more

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, near Penzance

Just outside Penzance, and close to the village of Gulval, you’ll find this dramatic, experiential garden, impressively set on steep slopes with sweeping views towards St Michael’s Mount.

Much of the planting here is lush and sub-tropical, with ferns and exotic plants forming a magical woodland that you can explore on boardwalks. Plus, as the name suggests, the gardens are dotted with sculptures and installations by some cutting-edge artists, making a visit a journey of discovery. I particularly love a moment’s contemplation inside James Turrell’s sky-viewing chamber. Tremenheere is a fun place for kids, too, as you never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

As well as the gardens, there’s an art gallery, showing the work of local artists, a well-curated gift shop, and the Tremenheere Kitchen, serving great lunches and cream teas as well as evening meals on the weekend.

How far? 25-minute drive.

When can I go? February to October.

Dogs allowed? Yes, but keep the lead on.

Here’s more

Trengwainton Gardens, near Penzance

On the far side of Penzance is another gorgeous, rambling National Trust garden, boasting a range of sub-tropical plants and ferns that grow around small streams, tumbling down the gentle slopes.

Wander off to your right, and you’ll find kitchen garden with neat rows of vegetables and a small field beyond, with a quaint secondhand bookshop. If you can haul yourself up the hill to the left, you’ll finally come out into the open where a paved walkway looks down towards the sea and St Michael’s Mount in the distance.

We like that they have both tarmac paths (perfect for buggies or wheelchairs) and smaller tracks if you want to get amongst the greenery.

Once you’re done exploring, head back down to the car park and treat yourself with a visit to the café – one of our favourite places for a cream tea. The scones are delicious, and you can choose from a range of homemade jams.

How far? 30-minute drive.

When can I go? Mid-February to October. Closed on Fridays.

Dogs allowed? Yes, but keep the lead on.

Visit their website

Enys Gardens, near Penryn

There are a few famous gardens on Cornwall’s sheltered south coast, but we also love the lesser-known Enys. It was one of those ‘lost’ gardens that was off the radar for a long time and only open to the public on selected dates. Now, the gardens are open every day during the spring and summer months, and they also host food, antique, and music festivals.

For me, the jewel in the crown has to be their jaw-dropping bluebell display in April and early May. Imagine a meadow of blue as far as the eye can see, with beautiful woodlands beyond. It really is something to behold. You can never be quite sure when the bluebells will be in full bloom, but Enys is worth a visit at any time, with an interesting range of formal gardens, open grasslands, and woodland areas.

The house in a state of disrepair, and it isn’t always open, but if you get the chance, it’s fascinating to explore the huge, empty rooms with their ghostly airiness. There’s a small café with outside seating, but it can get swamped at busier times of the year, so be prepared to queue. Alternatively, bring a picnic.

How far? 35-minute drive.

When can I go? April to September.

Dogs allowed? Yes, but keep the lead on.

Find out more


Hidden in a sheltered valley overlooking the beautiful Helford estuary is the vast, lush jungle of Trebah. There are over four miles of winding paths to explore. Dense, sub-tropical plants throng the hillsides between streams and lakes. And at the bottom is a cute, shingly cove.

My highlights include the gunnera walk in summer that feels like an alien landscape as you walk through the tunnel of umbrella-like leaves. Another of my must-sees is the gorgeous blue, pink and white hydrangea displays in autumn – an Instagrammers dream. Of course, springtime is when you’ll see the impressive shows of magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias.

Kids love the adventure play areas and the water gardens where massive carp cruise around in the ponds. There are also special trails and activities during holiday periods. And look out for family-friendly performances at the Trebah outdoor amphitheatre.

The Trebah Kitchen café has an outdoor terrace and dog-friendly tables. There’s also a gift shop, a garden centre and a kiosk on the beach selling ice creams and drinks. It’s worth noting that the only toilets are by the entrance at the top of the garden, and it’s a fair walk back from the bottom.

How far? 40-minute drive.

When can I go? All year.

Dogs allowed? Welcome in the gardens and on the beach on a lead.

Visit their website

Lost Gardens of Heligan, near St Austell

The evocatively named Lost Gardens of Heligan lay undiscovered for years and have been lovingly brought back to life as a downright magical place. It’s a vast area, comprising formal gardens, open meadows, themed areas, and all manner of tropical plants, with countless surprises to discover.

It’s a bit further away than some of the other gardens, and you’ll definitely need a full day to get the most out of your visit, but that early start will be worth it. I promise.

It’s one of our favourite gardens for families as there’s plenty here to capture the imagination of little ones. They’ll love the woodland walk with its Giant’s Playground, the jungle area with a wooden bridge hanging over a ravine, and the farm with animals, barns and workshops.

There’s also an excellent shop and a great café/restaurant that does a mean Sunday roast. But, be warned, it gets super-busy in peak season.

How far? 60-minute drive.

When can I go? All year, except Christmas Day.

Dogs allowed? Yes, but keep the lead on.

Find out more

The Eden Project, near Par

And now for something completely different. The Eden Project is probably one of Cornwall’s best known and most loved destinations, and, in my book, it deserves its status. The main attraction is the tropical and Mediterranean biomes which are filled with a stunning collection of plants from around the world. And being warm and undercover, these are great to explore whatever the weather. But there are also events and exhibitions, installations to explore, trails to follow, and huge garden areas.  In the winter, there’s a pop-up ice rink (make sure you book your session in advance) a light show and special festive events.

Yes, it is expensive, but there’s so much more there than you could ever see and do, even in a full day. And, don’t forget, you can grab cheaper tickets if you book in advance online.

How far? 60-minute drive.

When can I go? All year, except Christmas Day.

Dogs allowed? Outside and in the Visitor Centre on a lead but not in the bio domes or other buildings (guide dogs excepted). A maximum of two dogs per person.

Here’s their website

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