The gardens of St Michael’s Mount reopened at Easter and finally, this week, I fulfilled a long held ambition to visit them! I know we live within sight of the mount but somehow the time was never right – that’s not until this week as we enjoyed a Mediterranean spring here in Cornwall and I made a concerted effort to take the time off to see them. Well we were not disappointed and they are simply fabulous swathed across the impossible rock face with clever terracing and path ways constructed for visitors to see them although I understand one of the job requirements for the gardeners is the ability to abseil!
A ferry across the water
Blue skies and warm sunshine greeted us as we expertly ushered into place in the capacious car parks and we soon joined the throng taking the paved path along the edge of the sands. The boats were leaving from Chapel rock on this day (It does depend on the state of the tide or as one gentleman told men when I rang the change house to check for guest “Just where there is a bit of activity m’dear!”)
The boatman expertly brought his craft alongside the landing station and it was surprising easy to step aboard within minutes we felt the surge of the engine as we sped across the water to the mount looming high above the harbour.
The atmosphere was redolent of arriving at a foreign harbours and it reminded me of visiting Jersey or was it Guernsey on childhood holidays. St Michael’s Mount has strong links with France of course as the first Abbey was started by the same order of Monks that constructed Mount-Saint-Michel.
Onwards into the gardens
The Majestic building of the castle above us looked tantalisingly near full of atmosphere of centuries but we were here to see the gardens and so left the cottage lined harbour and turned left towards the gardens.
The route starts gently across the laundry green and I can report that it must have been the most brilliant place to dry the sheets – I felt for the small herd of dairy cows that used to live there in Victorian times!
But as we walked on around the flank of the mount we left the wind behind and only had the company of the sea lapping the rocks below us before turning uphill towards the first garden entrance. Now which gate you choose very much depends upon whether or not you are a cherry first or save the best until last sort of person. Personally I wanted to savour our visit in every last detail so we headed on towards the far south western end and entered the first seep path from there. It was a bit like choosing the wrong route through a supermarket aisle, as we flattened ourselves to the wall to let others pass following their own route down but so worth it as the first dramatic plantings of succulents came into view.
We had a great map!
We were handed a beautifully illustrated map that has been newly commissioned for visitors this year by artist Neil Gower – i’m afraid as i negotiated the paths i had to fold it but this is the exquisite remains! As you can see there are so many paths that lead to ever changing views which one to choose!
The dramatic planting of drifts succulents tumbling down the rock face, in wonderful condition after the winter was just beguiling and led us ever onwards along the paths lined with so many benches to just sit and take in the hot sub tropical sunshine that bathes this side of the island.
As we travelled through the gardens, we travelled on through the changing tastes of the centuries, until we reached the tranquil walled gardens started by the St Albans sister in 1780. There was such a sense of peace in these gardens and the modern planting in shades of silver is also planned to be viewed from the castle above. We settled in the summerhouse for a few minutes just to soak up the atmosphere before continuing on to the gardens climax on dizzying terraces descending the hillside full of flamboyant shapes and colours occasionally interspersed with restful green shapes of lawns.
As we slipped out through the garden gate back onto the green it seemed too soon to finish our adventure and so we had a delicious light lunch at the Island café and watched the word go by before managing to linger a little longer in the superb visitor centre beside the harbour.
“This way m’dears”
There was the shortest queue along the harbour wall to wait for the busy ferry boats as they sped to and through barely wasting a second and we were soon back on Chapel rock where more visitor waited looking dubiously at the water below. “This way m’dears, come on down” said the jolly boatman and they immediately felt braver and moved down to take our seat to their own island adventure
To find out more about the Garden on St Michael’s mount
St Michael’s Mounts own website has an extensive list of the garden planting and for an extra treat it is possible to take a tour with one of the gardens from the harbour.
Meet the Gardener
1pm Daily, 17 April – 30 June 2017
Visitors are invited to meet the gardeners for a 30 minute walk around the garden. Learn about the history of the garden, the plant collections that thrive in the sub-tropical garden, the design of the different areas, and the task of abseiling from the battlements to weed and plant the unique terrain! FREE with garden entrance
To read about our visit to St Michael’s Mount click here
Other gardens to visit this spring in West Cornwall
If you enjoyed this garden blog check out our recent visit to Tremenheere Sculpture gardens to explore more of West Cornwall’s subtropical climate and the use that gardeners in Cornwall make of it