“I was accused of having run off to the Caribbean during lockdown! I’d often take calls on the terrace and people were convinced I wasn’t in the UK.”
This confession from Robert Dudley-Cooke was no surprise, as the owner of Lamorran House Gardens takes Zoom calls sat against a backdrop of phoenix palms and brilliant blue skies.
The gardens at Lamorran became a “haven” over the last 18 months, with Robert saying, “I must admit, it did feel very restful. I have created something here that I hoped was going to be beautiful, tranquil and serene. When we were here in lockdown, I had time to stop and appreciate it.”
Hidden away on the Roseland Peninsula, the sub-tropical gardens are situated on a south-facing slope and surrounded on three sides by the benign influence of the warming Atlantic Ocean, giving Lamorran its own unique microclimate. These conditions have allowed Robert and his wife Maria-Antonietta to transform this four-acre area into a paradise of exotic plants – mainly rooted in their love of the Mediterranean.
When Robert and Maria-Antonietta first arrived at Lamorran in 1982, the site was nothing more than an overgrown steep slope falling away to St Mawes. Upon considering the potential, its location conjured up memories of their travels to the gardens of La Mortola in Liguria, Italy. From thereon, they set to work turning their vision into a reality at Lamorran.
“I’ve always had a southerly progression,” Robert explained. “I needed to get to the sea and out to the Mediterranean and when I found it, I couldn’t believe it. I came from a generation where you were told that Britain was utopia, but if only the weather was better! When I went to the Mediterranean I found the cliffs were three times as high, the buildings were beautiful and it was all very wonderful. I’d had all those thoughts even before I met my wife [who’s from Italy].”
“There are two main influences in the gardens; the first is Japanese, inspired by the Japanese garden in the parkland my Grandmother used to own. You walk past some balustrades and twisting steps to a koi pond, which is enclosed with tree ferns and palms to a Japanese garden in the middle. Then I superimposed the Mediterranean influences which came from my wife – influences of warmth, sunshine, and highlight intensity. There’s an avenue of statues and pillars leading to a fountain, which have all been put there to feel as if we’re in the Mediterranean.”
“Then having said that, we also have a rose garden! People didn’t believe that we could grow roses in the Great Gardens of Cornwall but we have about 250 old-fashioned pink and white shrub roses flowering at Lamorran! The perfume and general mass of pale pink and white colourings is absolutely magnificent.”
The result of this combination of influences is an informal, romantic terraced garden with curving paths and occasional ‘reveals’ of the sea that truly does make you feel as if you’re on the continent – and yet Robert has plans to heighten this sense of Mediterranean romanticism even further.
Each year, Robert and a small team of gardeners prepare a work plan for the winter, focusing on one or two key areas of the garden to improve. This year, attentions will be on creating more of “hard landscaped” area at the foot of the gardens.
“I’m going to create a shepherd’s refuge” Robert revealed. “It’s a stone, circular building with room for only one person, an open front and a little domed top. They’re typically seen in the Mediterranean for people looking after sheep on the mountainside. There are lots of exotic, herbaceous plants in that area and over 1000 evergreen azaleas across the whole garden – one of my favourites – that all grow into each other as a swathe of colour.”
“We’re also intending to finish off the southern hemisphere bank, which grows only New Zealand, South African and Australian plants, proteas and particular banksia trees. At the top garden, we’re also going to plant some new big palm trees if I can get hold of them, and re-landscape a little.”
Lamorran is open until the end of September, with Robert highlighting that there’s plenty of colour still to be found amongst the gardens. “The thing we’re quite well known for now is our tibouchinas, which are a really deep, velvety violet; they’re normally seen as a straggly plant in somebody’s greenhouse but judicious pruning means they’re putting on a display here! We also have marvellous myrtle luma trees, which is absolutely covered in slightly white, scented blossoms, and the fiery orange gingers are yet to come too.”
“The main thing is that the gardens encompass many forms and shapes, with palms and paths leading to several groves of tree ferns. You’re not really coming to Lamorran just for flower power; it’s the greenery that sets it apart.”