Trewidden: A Story of Ancient Tin Mines, Glorious Tree Ferns and the historic Bolitho Family Estate

An Independant Family Estate

 

Trewidden Garden is a beautiful spring garden located in the heart of West Cornwall, and part of the historic Bolitho Estate. Child and dog friendly, Trewidden Garden is a delight for all the family; which is fitting as Trewidden is an independent estate that’s still owned by the same family who first built it.

Cornish gardens are often linear, running straight down a driveway or towards a river or woodland, but Trewidden has a different energy about it. Standing square(ish) Trewidden offers distinct experiences in its various intimate areas; meandering paths joining the dots as visitors journey through the garden, experiencing its elements in whatever order they choose. Mystery lingers here, the scars of the industrial past have been softened by nature, and quaint ponds dot the landscape.

From ancient Tin Mine to glorious Tree Fern Dell

 

Trewidden, once known as ‘Trewidden Bal’, is the site of one of the oldest tin mines in the region, thought to predate the Roman occupation. Unnatural gouges and undulations in the earth signal where mining took place and the spoil dumped. The Burrows and Tree Fern Dell are the areas where the mining heritage remains most evident, but as the garden has evolved over the years the edges of the landscape have blurred, intertwining Trewidden Bal and Trewidden Garden together as one.

Our story starts with Edward Bolitho, who bought Trewidden Bal at auction in 1850 and began work on the garden with his visionary head gardener George Maddern. George’s tenure at Trewidden was significant, he dedicated 45 years to shaping the garden and planting woodland cover. Under Edward and George’s custodianship the magic of Trewidden Garden began to emerge and the baton of this fledgeling garden was passed onto future generations.

Edward’s son – Thomas Bolitho – continued in his father’s footsteps and worked to enhance the garden. Most notably he tackled the old opencast mine and planted it with 2-3 foot tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), that had been imported from Australia. This area is now (unsurprisingly) known as the Tree Fern Dell and is arguably the most impressive stand of tree ferns in the Northern Hemisphere.

Eden Project Cornwall

Caerhays and Trewidden combine: The linking of two great estates

 

Trewidden Garden was for a time linked with another of the Great Gardens of Cornwall, Caerhays Castle & Gardens, when Mary Bolitho wed Charles Williams in 1915. Both were keen gardeners, and so a 40 year chapter in the history of these two great Cornish estates commenced, when Trewidden and Caerhays were connected by marriage and a joint passion for the gardens.

It was not an easy period in world history though, and Cornwall was far from untouched during the wars. The long coastline meant the fear of invasion was always present, petrol rationing left rural people isolated and all the young gardeners had left to fight overseas. Those who stayed behind were older, and ill equipped to deal with gardens on such a scale. The great Cornish gardens were under attack from weeds, brambles and the most dangerous enemy of all, neglect.

During the Second World War Trewidden House was requisitioned and used as a Red Cross care home for returning soldiers. What a contrast the battle weary patients must have experienced during their convalescence here, far away from the front lines, amongst the peaceful fern trees of Trewidden Garden.

Over at Caerhays, Charles and Mary had their lives turned upside down by evacuees, when a school from the East End of London took over the castle, leaving the family displaced within its walls. It fell to Charles and Mary, and an old fashioned hand scythe, to hold the invading army of weeds at bay. Charles and Mary saved Caerhays garden, managing to keep their heads above water until the war ended and help returned.

Mary left her life at Caerhays and returned home to Trewidden in 1955, after the sudden death of her husband. Mary threw herself back into Trewidden, and took great enjoyment in the garden especially. She became an influential force in the development and evolution of Cornish gardens, and also re-founded the Cornwall Garden Society. At Trewidden, she planted the North Walk Magnolia hypoleuca herself, which is now the largest in the UK and has been named a champion tree. Mary played a major part in the rich legacy of this garden.

Eden Project Cornwall
Eden Project Cornwall

Modern Day Trewidden

 

Trewidden is still owned by the Bolitho family today, and has an impressive collection of over 300 camellias, and scores of magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Variety is abundant here, and with so much to explore every corner of the garden offers discovery and delight.

Richard Morton – Head Gardener at Trewidden Garden – is a keen fan of Ernest Wilson, the legendary plant hunter who risked his all on expeditions to China many years ago. Vast amounts of the exotic blooms that now exist in maturity at Trewidden were first introduced to UK soil by Ernest Wilson and George Forrest, and Trewidden would have been one of the original pioneering estates to plant these imported seeds.

Richard follows in the footsteps of other steady and capable Head Gardeners, who’ve taken a level-headed approach to developing Trewidden over the years. Richard advises gardeners to always “see the garden through a year before you make any drastic changes” and “when planting a tree think about its overall size in thirty years time and be patient”. Some of us struggle to plan next month, or even next year, but Richard represents a breed of notable gardeners who’ve been able to cast their mind’s eye forward a lifetime or more, to envisage their humble soil as a great garden of the future. We are reaping the benefits of this foresight today.

Trewidden Garden is compact, but each of its 15 acres makes a statement. It is an internationally recognised Camelia Garden of Excellence, home to possibly the finest stand of Tree Ferns this side of the globe, and numerous champion trees, some of which are over 100 years old. Explore Trewidden Garden and you’ll marvel at the sheer number of rare plant species, many not normally cultivated in the UK, that are the mark of a garden soaked in history.