Photographs: Charles Francis
October 2013: A conversation with owner Caroline Latham
What brought the Latham family to Trebartha?
The estate came up for sale as a number of lots in the 1940s, and my uncle came down from Essex just to look at the timber yard. But he fell in love with Trebartha, and the family bought the whole estate. It was the gardens which were the main attraction. The big house had been requisitioned by the British Army, and also used for the American Air Force and for prisoners of war, and was virtually derelict. It had to be pulled down in 1947. That saved the estate Instead of spending money on Trebartha Hall, we could spend it on the gardens.
How much do you know about the earlier history of the estate?
It had been in the hands of the Spoure family, and then their relations, the Rodds, since the 11th century. There are no plans of what the gardens were like. Many of the trees and shrubs were planted in the 19th century, and fruit, vegetables and cut flowers were grown in the walled gardens at that time. But the four Rodd sisters who lived here before the Second World War had no recollections of the gardens, only of hunting, shooting and fishing.
How has the family set about restoring the gardens?
We have more than 20 acres, so there’s quite a lot to do. We’ve majored on the walled garden, grassing it over and creating herbaceous borders, so that it can be a little retreat for the family. In the early days, there was one man and a wheelbarrow to help us, but we now have three gardeners. There’s only one glasshouse left: we think it was a melon house. There were about eight, in which fruit such as grapes and peaches were grown. They fell into disrepair, but we’re aiming to restore them.
What has been your greatest challenge?
In 2009, some areas of the gardens were found to be infected by Phytopthera ramorum — sudden oak death — so we’ve had to remove large quantities of Rhododendron ponticum, which spreads the disease. It has given us an opportunity to look afresh at the garden as a landscape: and we’ve decided to keep it simple, but have little pockets of extravagance. The woods are fabulous for bluebells, and they are spreading as we take out the ponticum.
What makes Trebartha special?
Trebartha means “house by the stream”, and the estate has pools, waterfalls and cascades. People love to sit up among the mossy rocks by the cascades and listen to the rushing water.
The Swan Pool, which dates from 1900, is another area where there has been massive clearance of ponticum. We now have mallard and Canada geese living there.
There are many magnificent trees at Trebartha. Can you describe some of them?
The American gardens were first planted in the 1800s with exotic trees form North America, which was the trendy thing to do in Cornish gardens at the time. In the parkland, we have an ancient oak, and probably the largest lime tree in Cornwall.
The newer trees include a Cedar of Lebanon — which actually came from Lebanon as a seedling in 2001 — and around 40 species trees in the Millennium plantation. Each member of the family chose a tree for the plantation. Nearby are the terraces, from where you can look down on some very fine spruces from about 1890. After doing the Millennium plantation we started clearing ponticum and fallen trees from this area, and planting new trees on a “‘shove it in and see” basis: noble fir, cedar, monkey puzzle, clumps of rhodys, lime, and a parrotia for autumn colour.
What else can visitors see in October?
Snake bark maple and Carya ovata in the Millennium plantation look stunning together. Autumn sunlight will be coming through the trees, and there should be fabulous reflections in the water in the cascades and the Swan Pool. As well as the woodland and parkland, people can see the herbaceous garden at Lemarne Cottage, where the estate’s gamekeeper used to live. My brother and sister-in-law Robert and Moira live there now.