The pandemic has undeniably posed many challenges across the globe, but Gary Long, the Head Gardener at Trewithen Gardens, explains how the great reset of 2020 also provided the chance to reflect and ultimately flourish, through changing the gardens and the way the team at Trewithen work forever.
“First of all, I must admit that the situation was quite scary, but a lot of positives have come from this. We’ve just got a different mindset now,” Gary said.
“Our grass and lawn care management has completely changed. We used to mow the lawns once a week in mid-summer and then after that, once a fortnight; that’d be one person mowing for up to a week. Now we’ve got that down to one person mowing for half a day a week and we just do the edges of the drive. That’s altered our routine now forever, which is huge.”
As a result, some of the grounds are being allowed to return to a naturalised grassland, with wild flowers emerging as the seasons progress. “We left the grass so clovers and daises were allowed to grow. Then there’s the cardamines, the hairy bittercress, primroses popping up and foxgloves – I’ve never seen so many foxgloves ever! – plus pink campions are everywhere as well.”
“The whole meadow area has changed colour from whitey-cream to a sort of pink-y colour. That’ll be a good legacy for the future, because all that seed bed will actually develop now so the seeds will flower this year and set seed for the future. We’re also semi-organic now and we don’t use chemicals in the garden anymore. We’re just letting nature do her thing.”
Passion for plants
Gary’s care and connection with Trewithen stems from a long established career in some of Cornwall’s best known and loved gardens. Starting out doing work experience for a local landscaping firm, he went on to complete a Youth Training Scheme at Trelissick for 2 years, before taking on the summer flower garden at Hotel St Micheal’s in Falmouth. He then spent nine years at Tregothnan Gardens, where one of his last tasks was to plant their now renowned tea plantation. Arriving as only the third ever Head Gardener at Trewithen in 2002, he’s been there ever since and has had some incredible career highlights – all of which happen to be related to their famous camellia collection.
He fondly remembered, “I’ve visited China twice; once in 2007 when I went to South East China, Shanghai, down to Guilin to look at camellia species, and then again in 2012 when I went to the Yunnan province in South West China to follow the plant hunter George Forrest’s 1932 expedition. We literally followed his route around Yunnan province, again looking at camellias. Seeing them in the wild and how they grow naturally was just eye-opening. During that time Trewithen was nominated as an International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence – we were only the 30th garden in the world at that time to do so!”
In a particularly proud moment, Gary was named amongst Horticulture Week’s Top 100 Gardeners last year which he said was a “big honour,” but he remains committed to caring for Trewithen, adding, “The two Head Gardeners here before me had 60 and 40 years of service between them, so they were both awarded the RHS long service medals. I’ve got to keep going yet!”
Restoring and reconnecting
As part of his future service at Trewithen, Gary revealed upcoming plans for the gardens – which will see landscape blueprints from the 1700’s finally come to fruition.
“We’ve started on the restoration of the valley garden and some developments which will see three ponds all tiered and cascading into each other, leading into a stream down through the woodlands,” Gary explained.
“Back in 1747 there was a landscape plan setting out the garden and house within the parkland, which included a series of ponds that cascaded into each other on the far south west of the garden. That either never got finished or, because it was so far away from the house, got left! Trewithen’s very flat, which is unusual for Cornish gardens, so this will give us a different topography to deal with now and a whole new dimension.” Trewithen is currently at the seeding and planting stage and is planning to have the developments finished and open to the public on March 1st 2022.
For the rest of this year, Trewithen’s teamed up with Silent Space, a charity that promotes peaceful time in green places. As a result, Trewithen has now opened up its walled garden, which was previously a private area of the estate, for the first time ever as a place for visitors to enjoy without the distraction of technology.
Gary said, “When you enter the silent space you turn your phone and your gadgets off and you just reconnect with nature. It’s very summer-themed so you’ve got your roses and your lavenders, and you simply go in there, turn everything off, and sit down. You actually hear things like nature and birds even though it’s meant to be silent.”
“One of the biggest positives from this whole situation is the reconnection with locals,” Gary added. “We have a great international following of visitors, but obviously restrictions meant people couldn’t travel far. As an example, we’ve gone from selling 19 season tickets in 2019 to 300 this year! There’s that real local interaction with Trewithen now as people are valuing green spaces more, and that’s been the best thing about it to be honest – reengaging with our local community has been really positive.”
Trewithen has extended its opening season until the end of October.