Garden and pool

Photographs: Charles Francis


Ethnevas Cottage

April 2015: A conversation with owner Lyn Watson

How did you discover Ethnevas?

We noticed a granite cottage from the top of a hill, nearly 50 years ago, and we decided we must go and see it. It was a pretty picture of dereliction, covered in wild roses. There was a stream, and we thought it would be a lovely place for our children to play. The house had been condemned, but the farmer who owned it agreed to sell it to us. All we had were four walls: the house needed new windows, roof and stairs. We lived in a caravan and washed in the stream, but it was paradise for the children, just as we had hoped.

Stream and plank bridge

There was 50 feet of overgrown garden, including an old apple tree which was covered in brambles: we called it a blackberry and apple tree.

Has the apple tree survived?

Yes. It’s a Winston Pippin, and has beautiful blossom. Some years ago, some of the branches touched the ground and rooted, but the new tree never had any flowers, so I chopped it down. The stump has been made into a seat: my grandchildren and my cat, Andy Pandy, like sitting on it. There are other apple trees, but if the skins go red, the birds and wasps get to them, and when I pick them I find I’ve just got empty shells. Last year, the birds swiped all my blackberries, too.

How did a 50-foot garden become two acres?

We started by growing vegetables and creating a tiny flower bed for sweet peas by our caravan. We also planted four flowering shrubs — ribes, forsythia, fuchsia and spirea. In 1975, we bought a bit of extra land above the garden. My husband fell in a ditch, and that’s how we discovered we had a spring — our own water supply. We started growing flowers and put a greenhouse up there. Then in the early ‘90s, we were able to buy a large empty field. We bought 40 tree seedlings — conifers, wild cherry, sorbus, silver birch, swamp cypress and others — to plant around the field. It’s on a steep slope, so we had to put barriers in front of the trees to stop them being blown out of the ground by the south-westerly winds. Every time I found a hawthorn or holly seedling, I planted them at the top of the field to make a hedge.

Did you know how you wanted to use the space, once you had planted the trees and hedge?

There was really not much of a plan. My husband wanted a pond, and he dug it out by hand: it’s four foot deep and 30 foot across. We also planted lots of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, and a wildflower meadow in the middle of the field. It’s now full of cowslips in the early spring, followed by things like ox-eyed daisies and cat’s ears. This garden is a story about what you can do with very little labour and very little money.

Iris and heather


What is your advice to other gardeners who have little of either?

Take lots of cuttings. It’s very rewarding. Years ago, an old lady who lived nearby gave us cuttings from her garden: fuchsias and hydrangeas and a beautiful, scented rambling rose, which flowers profusely every year. I call it ‘Mrs Rowe’s Buttermilk’, as it has yellow buds which open out to white flowers. Some of our conifers and camellias were grown from a bouquet of flowers given to my mother 40 years ago. I once found a tiny little pine seedling down by the Helford River, and thought: “That will get trodden on”, and planted it here. That was in about 1990, and it’s now one of the tallest trees in the garden.

What can visitors see in flower this spring?

The garden is a riot of colour in April and May: The apple blossom should be out, and there are loads of azaleas, viburnum, clematis and candelabra primulas. There’s also pink purslane, which is very pretty — and very invasive. When you have a semi-wild garden, you have to stop the wild bits covering everything you’ve planted. This is mainly a spring garden, but it’s good later in the year as well. Hoheria is one of the few summer-flowering trees, and red and yellow cornus make nice winter colour.

What makes this garden special for you?  

There is always somewhere where you can get out of the wind and into the sun. These are the places where my husband and I always enjoyed sitting — when we weren’t working in the garden. I keep the garden going in his memory, as so much of it was his inspiration. I have 11 grandchildren now, and every time a new one is born, I buy a new shrub to celebrate. Every spring, I get honeymooning ducks here: one male and one female. They come back later with their ducklings, and they all swim up the stream into the pond.

Lyn Watson