Deep in a steaming jungle valley something stirs. Through the sweeping
fronds of giant tree ferns, the keen eye will spot a large pond, speckled
with water lilies and drifting green weed. The view towards the heavens
is obscured by an abundance of coconut and desert palms, interspersed
with bristling thickets of bamboo and towering pines. This is all to
be found in the southwest of England and yet for once it is not the
much vaunted Eden Project. This place is Eden creator Tim Smits
previous baby, the intriguingly named Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Lost Gardens are twenty minutes drive from the Eden Project, to
the south of St Austell. They are disappointingly well sign-posted,
which is really a bonus, as it allows for more time hacking around
in the undergrowth of the Lost Valley and the sub-tropical Jungle.
Due to their close proximity, myself and my party went in search
of both the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens one sunny, Sunday
Much has been written
about the Eden Project as the sole millennium work to exhibit any relevance
or success. When placed in comparison to such gargantuan cock-ups as
the Millennium Dome, it is easy to see why. However, this is not really
what the Eden Project is all about. It ambitiously sets out to represent
and explore the bond between humankind and our environment. Unarguably,
this has been done in a spectacular manner through the two immense biomes,
yet one is left with an uneasy feeling that this is a case of quantity
triumphing over quality.
It seems that all of the ingredients are present at Eden for a truly
enlightening day out, yet somehow along the way the recipe appears to
have been mislaid. There is potential for huge numbers of visitors to
the innovative site in the bottom of an old quarry. Unfortunately, it
is just as likely that large numbers of these visitors will depart disappointed
with what they have experienced.
are many good ideas at Eden, but the project would benefit from
more informed and accessible sign-posting, as well as a larger variety
of points of general interest. This latter improvement would mean
that the enthusiastic crowds wont all find themselves trudging
round the two biomes in sweltering heat, fighting past hordes of
screamingly bored children, intent on destroying the remaining handles
on the perplexing banana machine.
We had arrived
at the Eden Project just after 11am and, in spite of the sites
reputation for spawning large queues, had walked straight in. We spent
around three and a half hours in the complex, which meant that (after
a bite to eat in the nearby harbour town of Mavagissey) we arrived at
the Lost Gardens towards the end of the day and largely had the place
The Lost Gardens were found by Smit and his team in 1990,
during the course of an arduous summers exploration of the wilderness
which was once the Tremayne family estate. Smit had stumbled upon the
work of a local architect who had drawn a rough plan of the way the
Tremayne gardens were in their original state. The estate had fallen
into disrepair following the start of the First World War and although
the team had heard detailed local accounts of valleys of palms and exotic
ferns, they were sceptical of what may remain.
What they found exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations. A
wide variety of the imported species which had originally formed the
gardens remained, if severely stunted and starved of light by rampant
rhododendrons. The four ornamental ponds which make up the southwestern
Jungle section of the Gardens, were found purely by chance and excavated
with the help of the National Rivers Authority. Further east, the Lost
Valley oozes serenity and after the hustle and bustle of the Eden project,
we gratefully soaked it up.
There were also the dilapidated kitchen and walled flower gardens in
the northern area of the grounds, which are traditional to old style
English country homes. Again, the brambles and weeds had taken over,
but the bones of what had once been immaculately tended glasshouses
and borders remained. These have all since been returned to their former
orderly glory, with the original citrus and vine glasshouses notable
The restoration project has since been underway for eleven years and
in that time, the largely voluntary workforce has managed to recreate
something very special. In contrast to the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens
of Heligan has the immediate advantage of age. The original plants (of
which a large proportion remain) are mature and the planning which took
place almost a century ago, has resulted in some truly inspiring settings.
Eden Project strives to present itself as the new and innovative
kid in town a shining example of how man can live in harmony
with nature. Yet, in the contrived eco-systems of the biomes, there
are no birds and insects or any of the wildlife which helps to make
areas such as the African deserts or South American rainforests
so distinctive. At Heligan, however, there is something just as
profound and infinitely more satisfying taking place an example
of man recognising and bowing to the superior power of nature.
The inclusion of
both exciting projects in one day provided an intriguing juxtaposing
of the old and the new. The majestic sweep of the giant bubble-wrap
biomes is impressive, but is placed in perfect perspective by the tranquillity
and quiet industry of a working Victorian garden. Plenty of visitors
to Cornwall will discover the delights of the Eden Project, yet it would
be a tragedy of biblical proportions were they not also to lose themselves
in the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
© Stuart Macdonald 2001
Lost Gardens of Heligan
Senior Citizens £5.00
Children (5 - 15 yrs) £2.50
Children (under 5) FREE
(2 adults + up to 3 children)
Open every day (except
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).
Main Season - 10am - 6pm, last tickets at 4:30pm.
Winter - 10am - 5pm, last tickets at 3:30pm.
Heading south on
the M5, join the A30 at Exeter. Past Bodmin, leave the A30 for the St
Austell Road (A391) and continue on to St Austell. From St Austell take
the road to Mevagissey (B3273) and follow the brown tourist signs to
"The Lost Gardens of Heligan".
Open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 10am6pm
(Last entry 5pm)
Individuals Groups (10+)
Adults £9.50 £8.00
Children (5-15yrs) £4.00 £3.00
Under 5s free free
Seniors (60yrs+) £7.50 £6.50
Students £5.00 £4.00
Family £22.00 -
You'll find the Eden
Project to the east of St Austell, signposted from the A30, A390 and