Photographs: Charles Francis
May 2015: A conversation with owners Richard and Christine Graham-Vivian
Bosahan is the quintessential Cornish valley garden. How much is known about its history?
Christine: Very little: we have no records or notes. We know it was started by the Grylls family, who lived here in the early 19th century — a botanist friend of ours believes the ferns here were among the earliest to come to Cornwall.
There was a productive garden at the bottom of the garden, with a glasshouse with a cob wall, which over the years was repaired with stone. There was also a market garden on estate land in the next valley, known as The Grove. When Richard’s great-great-grandfather, Sir Arthur Pendarves Vivian, acquired the estate in 1885, he built a huge mansion with 28 bedrooms, and developed the planting throughout the garden. It was something of a mania in Victorian times, if you had the money, to collect exotic plants, and APV planted 2,000 palms. There are also some fine magnolias and rhododendrons which date from APV’s day.
Magnolia sargentiana var robusta
How has Bosahan evolved in the last 150 years?
Richard: One of my great-great-grandfather’s daughters, Mabel, took an interest in the garden, but there’s a lot of guesswork about what planting Mabel and her husband, Lord Seaton, would have done.
Christine: During the Second World War, there were Land Girls here, working in the orchards in The Grove. When we came, most of the garden was very overgrown. We knew APV had planted many rhododendrons, but we had no idea where some of them were, because all the old porcelain plant labels had been gathered up and put in a box. A lot had died off before we came here, but we still have some big species of Rhododendron arboreum.
The Victorian mansion is no longer here: the present house was built by Richard’s father in the 50s, using stone from the previous one. A Magnolia campbellii planted by APV next to the old house is still here. There is another campbellii at the bottom of the garden, by the wall where the glasshouse was — it may have been planted in the glasshouse because APV wasn’t sure how hardy it would be. It is usually the first magnolia to bloom each year, flowering around February 6.
We’re still very much a garden of palms. Most of the Trachycarpus fortunei planted by APV are still here. Many have self-seeded, and we’ve also planted more.
Have you made any major changes in the garden?
Christine: A stream runs through the garden, and there is a naturally-occurring pond which is fed by springs — we think APV gentrified it for use as an ornamental pond, and to keep fish for the table. We did a major restoration job on it about ten years ago: after several very wet winters, water was leaking everywhere.
Richard: It was quite a job. We had to get a 10-tonne digger to remove all the mud and silt. The pond had quite a depth of puddled clay, which was doing a good job, but the roots of some of the plants had caused a weakness.
Christine: We had to get to the source of the problem, and we found a storm drain which had been covered with soil for many years. Laurel was growing in it, and it was overflowing We restored it, and also rebuilt the bridge and retaining wall between the pond and the stream.
In the centre of the pond is a bronze statue of a boy. He was definitely a fountain once, as there are lots of little holes in his jacket.
What makes Bosahan special?
Richard: The garden hasn’t had a lot of landscaping. It is a botanical collection in a beautiful valley.
Christine: It has been said that it has one of the happiest sitings of any Cornish garden. It sweeps down into a south-facing valley. The house faces east, out to sea, and the Helford River comes up on our western side. This is very much a private garden, and people compliment us on that. We don’t have tarmacadammed paths and a big café.
May is a wonderful time to see many of Bosahan’s magnificent rhododendrons and magnolias. Which ones are likely to be in bloom?
Christine: The deep purple Magnolia lilliiflora ‘Nigra’ is out in April and into May, Rhododendron loderi ‘King George’ should be in flower, and. Azalea ‘Palestrina’ is covered with white flowers, which have a fabulous scent. It’s the smell of sea and suntan lotion, so it’s very evocative of being on the beach. Michelia doltsopa also has beautiful white flowers. It’s one of my all-time favourites.