Photographs: Charles Francis
March 2010: A conversation with owners Anthony and Elizabeth Fortescue
How did Boconnoc come to be the home of the Cornwall Spring Flower Show?
Anthony: It had toured Cornwall over the years, but there was a feeling that perhaps it should be in one place. The show committee thought the setting here was ideal, with the stableyard housing the competitive classes and the area around the house for the stands and marquees. We’re prepared to have the show here as long as they’re happy for us to hold it.
Why do you think people enjoy coming to Boconnoc?
Anthony: You’re looking at Bodmin Moor, and then you arrive at Boconnoc, and you’re suddenly in an oasis of parkland and garden. Each year people say they never knew we were here. The view down to the lake is fabulous, and so is the deer park. Boconnoc‘s position is an advantage: people come as far as Taunton and Bristol. Last year, with the recession, the question was: “Are people going to come?” But they came, and they bought well — the stallholders were delighted.
Elizabeth: Even in a time of recession, people want to look after their homes and gardens. And the show has so many diverse elements: trade stalls, nurseries, talks and lectures, children’s exhibitions, art, photography, floral art and food. It’s the first major flower show of the year in the UK, which is why it deserves national and international recognition. Word is spreading every year.
What is the history of the estate?
Anthony: It can trace its history back to the Normans. Deer were brought here by William the Conquerer; they were some of the first in the country. Boconnoc was owned by the Pitt family for many years: Thomas Pitt bought the estate with the proceeds of the famous Pitt Diamond in 1714. Dramatic alterations were made to the house in the 18th century, and the lake added and park landscaped.
Trees were brought in from around the world, and planted in the pinetum – in the last few years, we have replanted it. In the Second World War, the house was occupied by American troops, and it was left empty from 1969 to 2000.
What are the most unusual features of the garden?
Elizabeth: The pinetum has circular paths and areas planted to represent different areas of the world. We put the trees in the parts of the world they actually come from. The bottom left is Chile, and the bottom right is New Zealand. It’s an interesting way of putting over the history of plants. People can think about how far the plant-hunters travelled to bring these plants back.
Anthony: A plunge pool was designed for the garden in the early 19th century, so that people could swim outdoors. It didn’t catch on — but it’s still here.
Elizabeth: The bath house, which was built in 1804, is solid granite, and is now shaded by a camellia and Magnolia grandiflora. Water came out of the lion’s mouth at the head of the bath from a system of leats; this leat system also feeds our fountain.
The entrance to the Georgian bath house
What changes have you made in the last 10 years?
Anthony: The house is being gradually restored, and it is exciting seeing it come back to life. The grounds were kept up even when the house was not in use, and the gardens open annually for charity on Sundays in May, including 51 years for the National Gardens Scheme. The Steam Fair was the first main event at Boconnoc and with the use of steam engines, we started the restoration of the lake. We have just two gardeners: they do a great job.
Elizabeth: In the Dorothy garden, which is named after Anthony’s great-grandmother, we’ve been planting a collection of magnolias in family groups among the trees.
Anthony: In spring, visitors can also see a mixture of camellias and rhododendrons — some dating from the 1850s — followed by azaleas. We want to extend the visiting season from spring into summer, with plants and shrubs to give summer colour.