The subtropical climate of Cornwall, Britain’s southern toe, is clearly conducive to gardening.
Cornwall has roughly 70 gardens open to the public. Garden expert Claire Vickers says Trebah – a subtropical ravine garden designed as a pleasure garden in the mid-19th century by Quaker scientist Charles Fox – is one of the most beautiful, due in part to its spectacular location on the Helford River.
Claire is a connoisseur, having visited nearly every garden in Cornwall from the historic gardens of Heligan and Caerhays Castle, known for its beautiful magnolias, to Glendurgan Garden, famous for its exquisite labyrinth, and the sheltered garden of Trengwainton, with flora unique to Great Britain.
While each garden has at least one exceptional feature, the most striking is undoubtedly the futuristic Eden Project in St Austell. Set against the walls of a former china clay quarry are two enormous, domed biospheres. The transparent cells do not remotely resemble the standard greenhouses we are familiar with. The largest biome emulates a tropical rainforest with more than 8,000 species of plants. Some of the trees even reach the roof, hovering meters above the biome floor.
The second, smaller biome emulates a Mediterranean climate. Under the inspirational guidance of Tim Smit, this biome presents the history of plants, people and places and their inherent interconnectedness. In just a few short years, the Eden Project has become the most important tourist attraction in Cornwall, so much so that local newspapers carry ads appealing to visitors NOT to come on rainy days to control overcrowding.
As I inhale the crisp green scent of freshly cut grass and briny ocean air, I begin to understand what Claire said earlier: “Cornwall is a sensory delight.” Smell, color, taste – it is all-encompassing in its corporeal stimulation. In 2004, Claire traded her hectic London lifestyle for the calm and tranquillity of Cornwall. People here are not nearly as lazy as some claim: “The Cornish have a reputation for being laid-back folks who spend their days eating pasties and drinking cider,” she says with a laugh.
In Cornwall, Claire has a close connection to the natural world. Just last weekend, she, her husband and their sons went crabbing across from the Pandora Inn, a thatched, 17th-century pub north of Falmouth which offers an excellent lunch. Crabbing is a popular pastime along the shores of Cornwall. Claire reveals her secret: “Try bacon, crabs love it.”
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