Creed House

Photographs: Charles Francis

April 2009: A conversation with owners William and Lally Croggon

 What’s the history of the garden?

William: It used to be quite a special garden in the traditional Cornish Rectory style. William Gregor, the rector here in the late 18th century, was also one of the great Cornish geologists — he discovered titanium. In clearing the garden, we found not only an enormous number of old bottles — mostly Victorian, but some older — but also the remains of old glass laboratory equipment which would almost certainly have belonged to Gregor. In his day, the garden was looked after very well, but in later years, rectors couldn’t afford gardeners. It’s quite a large garden, and it fell into a gradual state of neglect. I had always known and loved Creed as a boy, and in 1974, we had the chance to buy it.

How did you tackle the tremendous task of restoring the garden?

William: We had a map of what it used to be like, and we started clearing the ground, cutting down trees, chopping them up and burning them, then rotovating ready for planting. Over a period of some 20 years, we have established quite a good collection of trees and shrubs, particularly rhododendrons. We found the outlines of the paths by stabbing the ground with a fork, and then uncovering them from all the stuff which had grown on top. In one area, I tried to plant a tree but found hard ground. We got a bulldozer in and discovered a cobbled stable yard, which was very exciting.

You have worked closely together to restore the garden. Who does what?

William: I do the grass, the paths, the trees and shrubs …

Lally: … and I am the humble tiller of the soil! I love weeding, especially on summer evenings, in the glowing embers of the sun.

William: Lally chose most of the trees and plants, and she looks after the herbaceous beds, which is quite an undertaking.

William and Lally Croggan

What effects did the winter weather have on the garden?

William: The temperatures were exceptionally low, but what was unusual was the fact that they were low for such a long time: We’re still waiting to see exactly what we’ve lost.

Lally: Some echiums have gone, and I’m very sad that I’ve lost a really rare kangaroo potato plant. It had enormous blue flowers and black stems. We have grown it over several winters, but it is now a goner.

What can visitors see in the garden in April?

Lally: On April 5 last year, I wrote in my garden diary: “It looks as good as it’s ever been”. We had cherry, gunnera, Prunus padua in full bloom, and bluebells.

William: This year, everything’s coming out later than it has for the last few years. We should have rhododendrons and magnolias, and we will still have a few camellias. By the end of April, we might get Staphylea colchica, one of my favourites.

Camellia x williamsii 'Donation'

Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ 

Do you have a favourite area of the garden?

Lally: I have different favourites at different times of the year. I love the water garden when the mimulus is in full bloom, and I love the combination of the three white trees: Cornus kousa, Chionanthus virginicus, and the white tea bush.  We have amazing autumn colour: liquidamber, parrotia, gingko and acers. There is also a simply wonderful hydrangea, and that flowers at the same time as the smoke bush, which is all pinky and power-puffy.

William: My favourite patch is the dell with the lovely pin oak — Quercus palustris — and Rhododendron ’The Master’. We have planted a two-and-a-half acre woodland, underplanted with daffodills and bluebells.

Daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops

The sound of tinkling water is another nice feature of the garden — we have a small spring in the walled garden which feeds the whole garden. Where it overflows, we’ve made a stream which feeds what we ambitiously call “Creed Falls”, along with three ponds and the swamp garden.

Water feature

Your son and daughter-in-law are about to move into Creed House. How do you feel about handing over the garden after more than 30 years?

William: The garden has been a lifetime’s work, and the joy for us is that we won’t be leaving it, as we’ve built our new house there. We’ll enjoy looking at the garden, and we’ll always be pleased to help. It’s now the Croggan family garden. We’re lucky to have that continuity: old gardens don’t always get that. And the thing about old gardens is that each generation leaves its own prints. We have created the basic outlines — beds, secret paths, stream and woodland — but the new generation will run it in their own way.

Hamamelis japonica 'Sulphurea.