Photographs: Charles Francis
July 2015: A conversation with owner Philip Hambly
I’d like to say I had a big masterplan, but it just grew. There are 52 acres here. We’ve had the land since 1980, and I used to have cattle — but all the fields have reverted to wildflower meadows. Without manure, the ground is less fertile, which gives wildflowers the chance to compete with the grasses. We have red clover, ox-eyed daisies, cats’ ears, red bartsia …Ten years ago, a few southern marsh orchids came up; I’m expecting 5,000 this year.
There is also a river here, and six acres of woodland, which is not managed at all: it does what Mother Nature intended it to do. Trees shoot up, rot and sprout again.
Are there any areas of the garden where you’ve given Mother Nature a helping hand?
The woodland is so wet that we’ve had to make a path through it, with trenches on the side to drain away the water. Every winter, we put down plastic mesh netting to stabilise the path. I’ve been making another path by the river. It was a complete bog, and it’s been two winters’ work. We cut down some trees, and flag irises are flowering for the first time — they’ve never had enough light before.
The same thing happened after we cleared one area of trees in the early ’90s. It has now matured into a wet wildflower meadow containing many varieties of indigenous plants. No seed was sown — the plants just came up. They’ve probably been here for hundreds of years. I’ve also put in two lakes, which both have springs at the bottom. We now have a summerhouse on the land between the two lakes, where we serve cream teas to visitors.
How do you look after the wildlife living here?
I feed the birds every day during the winter with bird seed, and I have about 100 nest boxes. The newer ones are made of concrete and wood, and are vermin-proof, so the squirrels can’t get into them.
Kingfishers come here every day in the spring — there’s plenty of food for them in the lake. I try to photograph every bird I see, and I’ve just reached the hundredth species. We had a red kite here in May, and I couldn’t believe it was such a massive bird. I’m always looking for the butterfly that breeds in the elms, white-letter hairstreak. There are also purple hairstreaks in the oak trees; a couple of years ago, I hired a cherry-picker and took people up in one of the oaks to see them. If a tree falls down, it doesn’t get taken away, but is made into woodpiles for insects. One of my woodpiles has been here since 1992, and has become a feature of the landscape. I don’t know how many bugs live in there. It’s covered in ferns and moss and you can hardly see the timber.
Open day visitors are also invited to take a look around the neighbouring garden, Penadlake. What can you tell us about that?
We have a circular walk covering both gardens over two bridges which link our land with the land belonging to our neighbours, Gordon and Beth Roberts.
Gordon planted a little woodland about six years ago, with a level grassed path running through it. Some of the trees have done really well, but he has had trouble with roe deer. Gordon and Beth wanted a lake like ours, and I was happy to help them — the substrata is clay, so you rip off the top layer and you’ve got a lake. They now have moorhens and little grebe with their chicks there. You don’t often see little grebe — they’re very secretive.
What can visitors see at Lethytep in July?
The meadows are a picture — full of colour. If we don’t get any rain, I hope to open up the new river path. Everyone likes to have a walk near the water. Lethytep is suitable for disabled people because there are no steep bits and no steps; we can also drive people around in a four-seater golf cart.
We opened for Mid-Cornwall Parkinson’s and the Motor Neurone Disease Association in May, and this is the third or fourth year we’ve opened for Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Last year was by far the most successful; we had lovely weather. My wife Faith sometimes brings down 50 or 60 teddies and teacups into the woodland for a teddy bears’ picnic, and the adults who visit are as fascinated as the kiddies. The other things that excite people when they come here are the southern marsh orchids and the chance to see a kingfisher. Our greatest pleasure, having done all this work, is to see people come here and enjoy it.