We explored Trebah garden again yesterday, as the golden leaves of autumn swirled around our feet. This magnificent garden is in a lush sheltered river valley running down to the sea and the garden coaxes you along its well manicured paths with all of the authority of a vintage Rolls Royce.
The Walk from the lush palms at the top of the garden down through the valley is always accompanied by the gurgle of water passing through the gardens heart, until finally the sound of the waves landing on the shore below signal the Helford River and the sea.
Trebah is so evocative of the heady bygone worlds described by Rosamunde Pilcher and Daphne Du Maurier etched in my imagination yet there is poignancy there too, in the memory of the men that left the rarefied world of the sub tropical valley at Trebah, one dark night for the D day landings never to return.
Trebah Gardens an Autumn pilgrimage
Trebah garden has always been one of our favourite gardens but sadly we haven’t had time to revisit it for nearly twenty years. So it was with great anticipation that we set off on to explore the gardens that we had first visited when looking for inspiration for the gardens at Ednovean (or realistically which plants would grow well in West Cornwall!
The first pilgrimage for this visit had to be made to the top fish pond to the right of the “Beach Path” that dissects the garden. These day the paths are lushly framed by banks of Chamaerops Humilis – the European fan palm that lent the magical effect of visiting an Italian or French Villa to our journey.
This secluded little pond is an intimate area fed by a tinkling waterfall with enormous dark fish gliding in its depths these days. And it made a gentle introduction to the rills, ponds and lakes that lead down to the beach through the towering arboretum that clothes the valleys slopes. Each side of the valley is richly dissected with paths to explore, as the Tree ferns, Gunnera and Bamboo of the valley floor give way to champion trees in the higher reaches of the garden.
Trebah Gardens lead to secluded cove
Trebah Garden is set in a sub tropical river valley running down to the Helford River culminating in the little sandy beach of Polgwidden Cove with views out to the open sea. We picnicked here, sitting on the sea wall and idly watched the sailing boats flirt with the breeze in the estuary and children skim stones from the little jetty on the beach below us.
Trebah a small history
The magnificent twenty six acres of Trebah Garden, has a long history of development spanning over 200 years. The first works were instigated by Charles Fox, a wealthy Quaker whose family also developed Glendurgan Garden, the neighbouring national Trust garden.
In 1907 the garden was sold to Charles and Alice Hext who brought the garden to prominence until the outbreak of World War II. Then like so many gardens, it slumbered quietly, with only the trees growing on towards the champion status they enjoy today.
Trebah – The war years
The valley was used by the military as a demarcation point for the D Day landing with ten landing boats slipping out between the dark river banks to cross to France.
7,500 men of the US 29th Infantry division left the garden that dark night to land on Omaha Beach never to return. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the beach was reclaimed from the concrete infrastructure by the next owner Donald Healy – a racing driver and car designer who also built the boat shed and developed the lake.
In 1981 Major Hibbert with his wife Eira Hibbert bought the elegant Georgian house, at the head of the valley for his retirement years and he was shocked to find that the garden below concealed a major vintage garden lost in time when the secretary of the Cornwall Gardens Trust paid a call eight days after they had moved in!
Spurred on by Cornwall Garden Society and in truth relishing the challenge ahead they set to work and I think some of the charm of the garden comes from the personal involvement of the owners.
The garden was unsuccessfully offered to the National Trust but it was rejected so he persuaded his children to give up their inheritance and set up the Trebah Garden Trust to ensure the safe guardianship of the garden. Within three years he had outstripped the visitor numbers for the National Trusts neighboring Glendurgan garden – a fact not lost on the feisty Major arrested on VE day for “too enthusiastic celebrations”
Trebah Gardens in Autumn
We visited Trebah in November on a mild autumn day, when the last of the vibrant blue Hydrangeas were still in flower below the lake and we could hear the steady thwack of the gardeners cutting huge the huge Gunnera Manicata leaves ready to protect the plants for winter. In Winter there is a clam beauty about the garden and the magic of spring will bring vibrantly coloured Azaleas, Camellias Rhododendron and Magnolias to the valley again.