Scribbles from Devon and Cornwall – Part 2

20 05 2007

12-20 May 2007

Part1 | Part2 | Part3 | Part4 | Part5 | Part6 | Part7 | Part8 | Part9

Trelissick Garden

After leaving the cathedral at Truro, I rushed to the bus stop only to find that I had just missed the bus. I was not in any mood to wait again for the next bus. So I decided to walk to the garden but not before having a quick breakfast at Truro. The breakfast came with its own surprise. For toast, what I got were just hard ends of the loaf. My first reaction was to laugh silently. Upon reflection I thought that this was perhaps an interesting bit of local culture. Perhaps, the Cornish waste nothing and know the true value of nature’s gifts.

I walked to the garden by an easy path, one that followed a river and its estuary. The day was cloudy and dry. The landscapes were typical of the season – green vegetation growing with wild intensity, spots of colours here and there from wild flowers. At times, the walking path was long and bordered on either side with hedges and plants. So although I was outdoors, the views were closed. I saw neither the farms and hillocks on one side nor the river on the other. I was left to my own thoughts the way it is in medieval cloisters. When I arrived at the garden it was almost noon and it had been a lovely walk.

A cluster of bamboos at Trelissick

A cluster of bamboos at Trelissick

As gardeners, we may do a number of things but the ultimate choice and the willingness to give is nature’s. If she chooses not to give, we have to be contented with what we have. As tourists, we may travel for miles to visit a garden of beauty. Our little temptations might have been the pictures on websites and tourist brochures. However, very rarely do we find gardens in exactly the same state as promised. Take the roses of Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire. My visit had been worthwhile but I had not seen even a third of its full-fledged beauty. As for Trelissick Garden, a short guide to the garden described so many things but I could confirm very few of them.

Another point is that guides describe gardens across all seasons, whereas we have to make our impressions based on one short visit. It is indeed a challenge to create a garden that appeals and succeeds in all seasons. Take for example a large bush of Rhododendron “Cornish Red”, supposedly a key element in the Main Lawn. It was too late in spring for this plant. All colours were gone and the blossoms shed. Likewise, in the Dell the guide draws our attention to flowers of brilliant yellow “Mary Swaythling”, a large-leafed rhododendron. This is accompanied by an underplanting of small flowers and ferns. When I actually looked at the scene, I had difficulty locating this species. Again, the blossoms had been shed earlier in the season. The underplanting failed to thrill in any way. Then there is the Hydrangea Walk with not one hydrangea in bloom. All that remained of daffodils in the Carcaddon were fallen and dried stems.

One of many pleasant walks at Trelissick

One of many pleasant walks at Trelissick

Yet the garden had its highlights. The entrance welcomed with a mix of colour and variety in its many flower beds. The borders of the sloping Main Lawn were a balance of flowers and plants set against a backdrop of tall trees. These trees made the lawn a special place, sheltered from the world outside. These trees were in an area called the Carcaddon, from the Cornish prefix “Car” or “Caer” that denotes a fortified place. In the Carcaddon, were some lovely flowers: Iris “Sapphire Beauty” and Rhododendron Coccinea Speciosa. My attention was more devoted to the majestic trees in this area. Cedrus deodara drooped its branches from its massive canopy. The needle shaped leaves were arranged in clusters and spiralled around the stem. Pinus patula contained thin leaves bunched together. They drooped and danced freely like tassels or fur whisks. They were closely spaced on a little stem ending. The blue cones of Abies densa stood upright on their stems. I had imagined that pine cones could be of such a unique colour. The most impressive of them all, of which there are a few good specimens, was the Cupressus macrocarpa lutea, a giant tree of ribbed trunks and branches. The branches open out from the trunk and reach upwards as if invoking the sky above. The stems and leaves are at the end of these branches like little fingers. By this arrangement, the shape of the tree is clearly seen.

Among the flowers, the wisteria deserves special mention. It is a climber and a beautiful one too. At Trelissick, I saw them twisting their stems around the balustrade of a wooden bridge. Their white or purple tresses draped the bridge with grace and quiet aplomb. Wisterias work well with human elements of a garden scene. They reward their supports with beauty, even if such supports are no more than neglected ruins. In some sense, they are the perfect flowers for capriccio. The add beauty to facades of buildings, to bridges or to garden walls. On a recent business trip to Hampshire, I saw wisterias on a house decorating its gables and eaves as if they grew out of them!

The Dell had its highlights too with its profusion of numerous species at eye level, above and below. Tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) gave it an exotic touch. Rhododendrons were many, though not exactly the ones mentioned in the guide. On the whole, it was difficult to make up my mind if flowers or trees stole the show. If flowers gave colour, trees added to substance and form. In co-operation, they made this a balanced garden. None of these on their own can complete a garden whose primary intent is to be seen and appreciated by visitors. For this, many paths lead and wind amongst the garden beds. They create lovely perspectives. The garden is situated on a hill and the terraced paths crisscross at many places. The wide views to the Fal estuary framed by a canopy of thick vegetation make this garden almost perfect. While it is confident of its own beauty, it also looks out to the world for inspiration, or perhaps, completion.

In Trelissick stands a wooden sculpture by Reece Ingram. A stack of beans rises almost magically upwards while a man embodying the primitive spirit of nature’s creative energy raises his arms to the sky. It was inspired by something that happened in Yorkshire during the foot and mouth disease. Local farmers, with the help of Asians in the region, started growing coriander. Reece describes this as, “an unusual crop (for Yorkshire) and an interesting collaboration between cultures”. I loved the natural feel of this sculpture. It went well with the garden. It is normal to have a classical urn or the statue of Greek goddess in a formal garden. For the wilder woods and bushes, a modern sculpture as this works just as well.

Falmouth

Boatman ferrying me from Trelissick to Falmouth

Boatman ferrying me from Trelissick to Falmouth

A bus journey from Trelissick Garden to Falmouth is quite a long one. This is because both are on a coast that has many inlets into land. Therefore the most sensible mode of transport is a ferry. Though ferries are not frequent, they do exist. The price was reasonable and I arrived at Falmouth in about thirty minutes. The boatman was a friendly chap but real friendship can hardly be judged of a stranger whom I have known for only thirty minutes. He works almost everyday and claimed not to have taken a single holiday in three years. I learnt from him that a storm was expected over the weekend. In general, the weather was not expected to improve next week.

At Falmouth, I dropped into the Tourist Information Centre for accommodation at Fowey, a place I would visit later on in the trip. The staff were extremely helpful. One of them searched the online databases and gave me a neat handwritten list of five options. She informed me that there was festival scheduled for next week at Fowey and it was a difficult period to find anything cheap. Single rooms were anyway always in lesser supply. She then asked me if I would like some details on the festival. I replied that I have never heard of Daphne du Maurier and was least interested.

I arrived at Falmouth Lodge Backpackers as planned. No one was at the lodge and I had to wait for more than an hour. Knowing that the weather was going to turn sour the next day, I took time to waterproof my jacket and trousers. I waited in leisure, breathing the sea air and admiring the beauty of Cornwall. This beauty was present even in this urban street of stone and concrete. Every house had a garden. Plants and flowers were growing in abandon. They grew from little niches and gaps between stones. No wall was spared. Later, I took a walk around town. The map informed that Falmouth has three gardens. I didn’t bother with any of them after so recent a visit to Trelissick. If the northern side of town is busy with commercial activity, the southern side is quieter. There are four named beaches. I didn’t hit their sands but I did pass them on my way to the castle. I walked around Pendennis Castle with its spectacular moat. Today the moat is dry, somewhat like that of Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. I am told this castle used to be a youth hostel before.

A beach at Falmouth

A beach at Falmouth

Falmouth is a sizeable coastal town. Even modern container ships call here. Looking at the map of Falmouth I found so many terms associated with this urban coastline – wharf, dock, quay, pier, port, marina. I think it will be interesting to find the little differences among them. I did not find here the charm and rustic feel of Whitby. Perhaps, if I had stayed longer I would have found it. As travellers, we view places through a small window of time. We may form an incomplete picture. Our observations must be necessarily qualified.

Trebah Garden

The hostel at Falmouth was a splendid one. It was in a quiet location. My room looked out to the sea. The place was furnished comfortably. I had a good sleep last night. It was necessary after a night on the coach. This morning the hostel even provided a good breakfast. It is now time to proceed to another great Cornish garden.

Glendurgan Garden is not very far from Falmouth. The name itself is musical with its rising and falling sounds. “Glen” is a prefix more common in Scotland and “durgan” echoes the Indian Goddess Durga. An unlikely combination we would think. I have long cherished a desire to visit it. I have just discovered to my great disappointment that this garden is closed on Sundays. However, just next to it is Trebah Garden. I have not heard much of it but since I am passing that way, I might as well visit it. So the plan is to take an early bus to the garden and wait for it to open at half ten. Better still, the bus ticket will allow me half-price admission to the garden. This is definitely a good way to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

Having completed my visit of Trebah Garden, I make this bold claim – this is the best garden I have seen anywhere in the world. The beauty was stunning from the start. With such variety of local and exotic plants I could not even begin to make notes. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. It was only after walking the paths countless times did I understand the elaborate scheme of things. Here was a garden that had to be shared. I sent a text message to my sister but did was difficult for her to appreciate it. A few words were clearly inadequate to describe a garden of such perfection.

Nature at her best in Trebah Gardens

Nature at her best in Trebah Gardens

It may be said that the gardeners here are blessed with the right natural landscape. The same gardeners, by their own ingenuity, have made the most of it. From the high viewpoint of the entrance, a gentle valley opens out to the sea. This valley falls gradually until it meets the sea in the distance. On either side of this sloping valley are gentle slopes covered with a variety of shrubs and trees. On these slopes are terraced and shaded paths that give excellent views of the valley below. From these paths we can see the luxuriant vegetation on the slopes across the valley. Exotic trees such as tropical palms pierce through the low-lying canopy of the valley. They provide striking points of focus. Tall trees on high slopes link the valley to the horizon in the distance. Trees and plants in the near foreground frame the views so that continuity of perspective is maintained from where we stand. Flowerings shrubs are in profusion all throughout the garden. Add to these, the leisurely flow of a stream, the refreshing sea breeze, the swaying of branches and leaves, and the sweet scents of rhododendrons, we would think that this is heaven.

The view of the sea is brief. At best, it is a distant glimpse. This is sufficient to motivate us to make our way to it. Even when we walk on the slopes, the sea does not come into our view until at the last moment. The reason is simple. The profusion within the garden blocks all views. The garden surrounds us from all sides. There is colour everywhere. There are perspectives in every direction we look. Each one beckons us to take a closer look. The garden has a way of guiding us to discover and savour it in more than one way.

Looking back to the house and entrance from the far end of the valley, all keys elements of the garden could be seen framed in a single picture. In the near foreground was a large pond surrounded by ferns, flowerings plants and little palms. A little bridge spanned a small stream that drained into the pond. Beyond the bridge, where the valley started to climb, were countless hydrangeas in buds. With these hydrangeas in bloom, we can imagine how colourful this place would be in summer. A little higher, the ground was completely covered thickly with Gunnera manicata or Giant Rhubarb from Brazil. Part of the appeal was that there remained no bare ground here. These plants from Brazil grew a few metres tall. I could walk upright under their broad leaves, taking care not to brush against their thorny stems. Then, the elegance of bamboos took over. Then, the rhododendrons stamped their colourful character. A lovely specimen of the “handkerchief” tree (Davidia involucrata) stood in full bloom, the ground underneath covered with white bracts that had been recently shed. Elsewhere on the slopes, camellias added bright reds. Many wonderful plants in endless varieties stood in their allotted spaces as if they were always meant to be there. Just before I returned to the entrance, I passed the water garden.

At this time of the year, the water garden was undoubtedly the pride and glory of Trebah. A little stream flows thinly on a broad slope. A path hugs this stream. This path is probably the meanest part of the whole scene but it is necessary. It enables visitors to take a closer look at the ferns and flowers, smell their scents and feel the cool moisture in the air. Yet I think that the beauty of the water garden is best when we look at it from a distance. The details that we see closer are necessary elements of beauty; but this beauty can be appreciated only when these elements are seen within the context of larger scenes they create.

The Water Garden at Trebah

The Water Garden at Trebah

In this water garden were Zantedeschia lilies displaying their white trumpet shaped flowers, the spathe curled elegantly around a yellow spadix. In one place, white irises stood. These whites appeared as noticeable highlights in a place where the dominant colours were the yellows and pinks of primroses (Candelabra primula). Even these occurred as spots of colour sprinkled on a canvas of varying shades of green. The leaves were of many shapes and sizes. As the stream turned a little in its downstream flow, so did this little garden. Many ferns, short and tall, lined the stream. They displayed their fronds elegantly. Exotic palms added further interest on the ground. Tall tree ferns, as those in Trelissick, standing by the side at one end framed the view perfectly. Rhododendrons on the other side balanced it in both colour and form. In conclusion, this is one scene I will never forget. I felt I had found perfection. I came back to this scene repeatedly over the morning and the afternoon.

As it has been predicted, it was a wet day. The rain was for most part a steady light drizzle. Very briefly, the sun shone through a break in the clouds. The colours brightened and the contrast in the scene heightened. The shadows were made harsh. Wet glossy leaves reflected the sun brightly. It was not a scene I liked. Therefore, the rain was always a welcoming prospect for presenting the garden in the best light. The clouds softened the colours and smudged the shadows. The drizzle was perfect for the water garden. Here the droplets gathered on leaves and petals. Droplets were suspended at the tips of fern leaves. The water garden was made all the more alluring.

In Trebah, there is a bit of World War history. On the 1st of June 1944, the 175th Combat team of the 29th US Infantry Division of about 7500 men embarked from Trebah beach in Landing Ship Tanks to take part in the D-Day landings. Some may condemn war. Of course, war is justified when people need to defend their freedom or fight against inequality, oppression, tyranny or genocide. On a more personal level, there is one easy way to justify it. Take the thing you love most, something that has become a part of your life. Imagine losing it forever. When all else have failed, you would have to fight to defend it. This “something” might be as simple as this garden. If this garden exists today, it is in some way thanks to the bravery of men who fought for this land. The following words etched on a plaque recognize this:

They shall grow not old
as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

Part1 | Part2 | Part3 | Part4 | Part5 | Part6 | Part7 | Part8 | Part9

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