Photographs: Charles Francis
January 2013: A conversation with owners Bob and Maureen Crozier
Glen Carne not only has a nursery and a variety of garden rooms — it also provides accommodation, support and horticultural training for troubled young men. How did it all begin?
Bob: It was almost by accident. When our children went to college we were left with a big house and we decided to do B&B. Then a CPN (community psychiatric nurse) asked us if we could have one of their boys for a fortnight. He stayed for two years. By then, more young men had been brought to us. We started doing IT training in our living room — and then we thought: “We are a nursery, and it would be good if we had the boys doing horticultural work.” That was more than 25 years ago. We now do two one or two years’ training in conjunction with Duchy College at Rosewarne: we have classrooms here, as well as accommodation. We also offer training in life skills like budgeting, and activities like sailing and cycling.
How did the project progress?
Bob: When we started we asked advice from the charity Shelter, and they said: “Try to give these kids the best you can.” That’s what we’ve always done. If you give them a hovel, they will treat it like a hovel. We were trained by Supporting People, a government programme, and we are now a charity, working with doctors, homeless agencies like St Petroc’s and Cornwall Council. Some of the lads are recovering from alcohol or drug abuse, some have mental health problems and some have learning difficulties. We try to raise their self-esteem, and we have had great success. They aren’t beer-swilling yobs. They are part of the community in St Agnes, and the community has accepted us. Our exit strategy is to try to move them onto independent living. By the time they leave, they know how to cook, clean and pay bills, and they have the qualifications to get a job.
How have the nursery and gardens developed over the years?
Bob: This was a three-acre hay field on a slope when we first came. There were certain parts which a tractor couldn’t get to. Over the years we have tiered and levelled it. We have eight water features, including a large pond which we fill with rainwater; Maureen has developed the overflow into a bog area with plants like gunnera. In the Japanese garden, there is also a waterfall and a stream.
How did you design the gardens?
Maureen: I wanted different looks for different areas. I don’t like straight lines, so there are circles everywhere. The herb garden is a circle of life, which begins with herbs suitable for babies, and ends with medicinal herbs for old age. We have a 200-year-old pump in the centre of the pond at the top of the gardens, with perennials around the edges — architectural plants like Verbena bonariensis, grasses and agapanthus, and ground cover like a campanula which has spotted pink lily-like flowers.
In the woodland area, there are lots of camellias and rhododendrons, so spring is a lovely time to come here. But I also wanted autumn colour. There are acers, liquidamber, cercis — it has lovely heart-shaped leaves — and smoke bush, and I love the variegated foliage of the pieris and the gold of the elaeagnis. We do about 80 per cent of our own propagation. I enjoy it all: propagating, designing and creating, and working with the boys.
What kind of work do they do in the gardens?
Bob: They keep the paths nice, and do some of the planting. They all got involved in creating the decking area. We take the boys’ ideas on board. One boy was asked to cut a hedge at the top of the garden — and he cut it all down. But it opened up what we think is one of the best views in Cornwall, across miles of open countryside. He thought it would be nice for our customers to see it.
Why do you think this is such a therapeutic environment?
Maureen: It’s a chance for the boys to be in the countryside and get a breath of fresh air. And it’s so exciting for them to see a plant grow from a little seed. It’s nice for me to see someone suddenly get an interest in gardening, and then develop it and go on to work in different areas of horticulture. One lad went into tree surgery.
Bob: The lads can sit quietly in the area we call our village green or kick a football about, and we have ducks, chickens and fish, plus visiting squirrels, badgers, foxes and rabbits. It’s very peaceful and tranquil.