Last week Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens welcomed back local visitors and we were among the first to step through the gates. This is partly because we were so desperate for somewhere different to take our daily exercise but also because it's such a fascinating place. Many Cornish gardens have grown up around great houses and are best-known for their spring displays of camellias and rhododendrons but Tremenheere offers something different.
Set in a valley on the outskirts of Penzance, the gardens occupy a spectacular location overlooking Mount's Bay. The 20-acre site includes mature woodland and large-scale planting of exotic and sub-tropical species. Woven into the fabric of the landscape is a growing collection of permanent works by artists including James Turrell, David Nash, Richard Long and Tim Shaw.
The land had been owned since the Middle Ages by the Tremenheere family. Sheltered, and with its, own micro climate, it was once used to grow grapes for the monastery on St Michael's Mount and was later a market garden. In the 1830s, Seymour Tremenheere, the last of the line, planted trees including oak, beech and sweet chestnut in the woods. He also created a carriage drive up the hill that still forms the basis of some of the paths in the garden.
The site was bought by GP Dr Neil Armstrong in 1997. The land had become overgrown but as he cleared away brambles and fallen trees, Dr Armstrong began to reveal its character. Boggy in places, arid in others, this informed his planting scheme. He also drew inspiration from the ideas of William Robinson, the celebrated Edwardian advocate of naturalistic planting, to create a bold and unusual garden. Tremenheere opened to the public in 2012 and continues to evolve.
Visitors' enter the garden through wooded valley where greens of every shade proliferate and the native trees planted by Seymour Tremenheere share the space with palms and tree ferns. A boardwalk follows the route of a stream up to a series of ponds. It's a quiet and contemplative space, full of shadows and dappled light, but as you walk up the steps leading out of the valley, the planting changes dramatically.
This is a dry landscape with plants usually found in South Africa or the deserts of Mexico: restios, proteas, agaves and palms. There are banksias and grass trees, with their textured trunk and shocks of spiky leaves, which we became familiar with when we lived in Australia.
And of course there's the sculpture. I'm the first to admit that some of it baffles me but don't let this put you off. If Ian Penna's gleaming stainless steel skip leaves you cold, you may appreciate Tim Shaw's powerful Minotaur.
Billy Wynter's Camera Obscura and James Turrell's celebrated Skyspace, which both link the garden to its surroundings are sadly closed due to Covid restrictions but do visit if you get the chance.
Even if you're not usually a fan of gardens or sculpture, we highly recommend a visit. Dogs are welcome and there's plenty to occupy children. The site is also home to a major art gallery, an excellent shop, a succulent nursery and one of our favourite cafes.
To find out more visit the website at https://www.tremenheere.co.uk