Bonython Estate Gardens: The Story of Botanical Artist Sue Nathan & Her Most Spectacular Canvas Yet.

Bonython Estate Gardens: The Story of Botanical Artist Sue Nathan & Her Most Spectacular Canvas Yet.

The rejuvenation of a historic estate


The Bonython Estate sits on the beautiful Lizard peninsula, an area with miles of stunning coastline, amazing walks and natural landscapes to discover. If you find yourself near the Lizard, then we urge you to seize the opportunity to explore the beautiful gardens at Bonython. For now let us take you on a journey in your mind, around this surprising and delightful Great Garden of Cornwall; we hope that it inspires you to visit in person.

The Bonython Estate has been in existence since the 13th-century, and was occupied by the Bonython family themselves until the 17th-century. The heart of the estate is the graceful Georgian house, constructed by famous architect William Wood in the 1780s and described by Nikolaus Pevsner, renowned Architectural Historian, as “exceptionally elegant”. By the 1830s, Monterey Pine and Beech trees dominated the estate, with pebbles acquired from nearby Loe Bar forming a network of gravelled pathways around the gardens. The 20th-century saw a switch of priorities on the estate towards farming, and the garden was all but forgotten. The beautiful structure of the walled garden survived, but by 1998 not a trace of the original plantings or layout remained.


Bonython Estate Gardens - The Great Gardens of Cornwall
Bonython Estate Gardens - The Great Gardens of Cornwall

An artist in residence at Bonython


Sue and Richard Nathan took ownership of the Bonython Estate in 1999, and in the quarter of a decade since then, the gardens have been totally transformed. Sue and her support team conducted extensive replanting, with nearly 20,000 additional trees introduced to support the old shelter belts in the last decade alone. The garden has also been remodelled, and it now meanders delightfully around the Georgian Manor, offering variety and imagination at every turn.

Sue Nathan is an established botanical artist, who saw in Bonython a larger canvas on which to create her art. She threw her passion and energy into her garden; every plant and shrub in the garden has been meticulously picked and planted by Sue, nothing has flowered by accident here. Sue’s South African origin has set the tone for much of the colour palette and layout, resulting in a journey around these gardens which is quite unlike the average English estate.

The way visitors enjoy Bonython is largely down to Sue Nathan’s artistic vision. The modern planting has an obvious South African twist, a tribute to Sue’s heritage, and she’s made a huge personal impact on this garden, revitalising this tired 19th-century garden and transforming it into a modern Great Garden of Cornwall.

“I have put so much of myself into the garden, and it has given me so much joy, that I want to share it with others”


  • Sue Nathan, Owner


Today, visitors can explore the diverse 20-acre estate which includes, a colourful courtyard garden, a historic walled garden, a potager, three lakes of differing ambiance, a hydrangea-lined driveway, a magical valley-garden with ornamental grasses, a variety of bamboos, tree ferns, South African themed planting and so much more…


The Hydrangea Drive


The hydrangea drive is one of the few features inherited by Sue Nathan. Hundreds of Blue hydrangeas were planted by a previous resident, the acidic soil resulting in vibrant blue blooms. To see the hydrangeas in all their glory, plan your visit for July or August.


The Three Lakes


At the heart of the garden lies a network of three lakes, connected by streams, and each offering a totally different atmosphere, planting theme and experience. The “Tranquil” themed lake is the first visitors will come across, the still water reflects the sky and the vegetation around it, creating a peaceful ambiance. Planting here is low key to preserve the simplicity and stillness, with rhododendrons, irises, Pontederia cordata, pampas grass and a variety of spring daffodils.

The second lake has a “vibrant” and warm personality, with yellows and reds provided by cannas, proteas, restios, and dahlias, mixed with a variety of grasses.

The third lake is an old quarry; its heavy tree cover makes it a cool, sheltered and “mysterious” place with a ghostly quality. Creepers climb the cliffs that surround the water, thick ferns grow close to the shore and stands of bamboo surround the water giving texture to the vegetation. Over the years the lake had become silted up by runoff from the previous commercial dairy farm that operated on the estate. The lake was dug out and expanded with the use of heavy machinery, and clay from the estate was used to line the enlarged basin.

The Yew Chapel


“About 14 years ago I decided we needed a chapel at Bonython, but instead of building one which would have been difficult to achieve, I thought of growing a green yew chapel as a feature in the garden. Now after many years of the yew growing, we have achieved the buttresses, chapel windows, the ivy seats and succulents as hassocks. The altar is fully grown from Lonicera hedge and the cross is made from a combination of bamboo and cypress. Lastly the chapel front, which is nearly fully grown from Buxus, will be ready for its first christening.”


  • Sue Nathan, Owner


The Potager


The Potager garden is designed to provide the manor with a mix of flowers and edible plants. This area of Bonython benefits from a microclimate created by the stone walls, so a wide range of interesting fruits and flowers are able to grow here that may not thrive so well in other areas of the garden. Pears, rhubarb, cherries, strawberries, runner beans, Swiss chard, sweet peas, roses, lettuce and herbs all share this space at various times in the season. Sue Nathan has coordinated the colour palette of the Potager to heavily feature flowers and vegetables in shades of pink, burgundy and plum. There is a colourful array on display throughout the season, from the pink tulips in May right up to the delightful Dahlias in September.

In 2007 a propagating hut was added, where plants are raised for both Bonython’s gardens, and those of its visitors.

Silver Birch Trees


“One of my favourite trees is the silver birch (Betula Jaquemontii). It was one tree which we did not have in the garden, so in an area which was wind swept and had bare lawn, we started to create a silver birch wood. Firstly we made a mound to feature a sculpture piece on the top of the mound and then to plant 145 silver birch trees in a circle with the lawn in the middle mowed in circles of different lengths. It has been a huge success and now is an important feature as the trees have grown to give shelter to an area of the garden as well as a visual enhancement.”


  • Sue Nathan, Owner



The Walled Garden


This garden was originally built in the 18th-century, but nothing remained of the original planting when Sue Nathan came to Bonython. She respectfully resurrected this historic space, and it oozes with ancient charm. Specimen trees and colour themed herbaceous beds subtly dominate the space, with the longest borders in classic tones of blue, mauve, and purple. White borders shine under the eucryphia, and the Pool House is flanked by shades of pink and magenta.

An 18th-century crescent moon shaped stone bench is set into a curve in the escallonia hedge, time stamping this garden as a place of days gone by. This seat looks like it has always been here, but it was actually introduced by the Nathans, a sign that this garden and this family were meant to join as one.

The walls of the garden are a natural climbing frame, and clematis, wisteria, tree peonies, abutilons and many more interesting climbers thrive here. The walls keep much of the wind at bay, creating that joyful quality that is so common in Cornish walled gardens, an almost frost free zone.



“This is the latest addition to the garden. We had an area where a lot of trees had fallen down and was extremely boggy as the water ran through it to the first lake. We went on a clearing campaign and channelled the water into a stream and then planted tree ferns on one side. These will be the fernery as I am slowly under planting the tree ferns with specimen small growing ferns. The bamboos are all new and feature on the other side of the stream. The idea is to show an exciting variety of canes as you walk through the bamboozle.”


  • Sue Nathan, Owner



A magical visit to Bonython


Rest assured that a visit to Bonython is deeply personal and charmingly intimate. There is a trusting honesty system in place, so whether it’s for your entry to the garden, or for your coffee and cake, ‘just pay when you see the gardener’.

Visitor numbers are much lower here than at some of the more high profile gardens in Cornwall, but here lies the source of Bonython’s charm; you’ll feel like you’re entering a sanctuary, a haven from the relentless rush and stress of the world beyond its walls. You can peacefully pass an afternoon amongst the planting and enjoy perfect solitude in these tranquil spaces. Bonython has a magic about it that is felt by all who are lucky enough to dreamily wander amongst Sue’s life-size canvases, exploring this realm where art and nature so beautifully and perfectly collide.

Bonython Estate Gardens - The Great Gardens of Cornwall
Bonython Estate Gardens - The Great Gardens of Cornwall

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