A new botanical garden is taking shape on a former mining site at Pool

Grasses and eucalyptus from Australia
Photographs: Charles Francis

August 2012: A conversation with head gardener Julie Tripp

What was the thinking behind the design of the gardens?

The aim was to celebrate the Cornish diaspora. During the 19th century, thousands of Cornish people emigrated across the world, taking with them their culture and mining skills. The garden uses plants to tell their story and highlight their influence on the lands which they went to. The garden is fan-shaped to represent Cornish people fanning out all over the world, and is divided into five smaller gardens, which are themed on continents and nations important to the story of Cornish migration: North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. People can enter the gardens by crossing the bridge over the reflection pool, which represents crossing oceans — and also the reflections of the Cornish people as they left Cornwall about what lay ahead.

Reflecting pool

How does the garden use plants to tell this fascinating story?

The Cornish hedges, planted with red and white campions, are made out of stones from the mines around here, the area where many of the miners came from. They brought back plants like Erigeron karvinskianus, which has white daisy-like flowers and grows in walls and hedges.  We also have some of the exotic plants sent back by plant-hunters like the Lobb brothers, who were funded by the landed gentry. They brought over a big consignment of monkey puzzles: most of the ones you see in Cornwall came from that original collection.

Monkey puzzle

Many plants were propagated by nurseries like Treseder’s. Three of the Treseder brothers emigrated to Australia to go mining, but instead they set up nurseries and market gardens to feed the miners. They sent back things like New Zealand tree ferns.

What was the main challenge in creating the garden?

The whole area had to be dug out, as it had been a mine site, and nothing would grow. The first 18 inches is clean soil. The aim has been to try to match the soil in each of the gardens with the soil in each country.  Mostly, it is acidic and free-draining.

Can you describe the planting in each of the gardens?

Notable trees in the North America garden are the Sequoia gigantea, Bishop pine, and Californian redwood – which will grow outwards here, rather than upwards. There are also Washingtonia palm, mahonias and yuccas from Mexico. And we’ve picked out certain plants which people might have in their own gardens — like penstemon, achillea and philadelphus — which grow wild in North America.

Penstemon 'Evelyn' and Salvia superba

Penstemon ‘Evelyn’ with Salvia superba 

The South America garden reflects the fact that there are mountainous cold areas there, as well as hot jungles. Fuchsias are common plants here, and many people don’t know that nearly all of them come from South America. Escallonia is another great plant for Cornish gardens. There are monkey puzzles, Verbenia bonariensis, bamboo — not usually associated with South America — and puya, which has lots of spines and will get very big; it’s a classic plant in that part of the world. The South African garden is very much a summer garden, with lots of herbaceous plants. There’s osteospernum and montbretia, and a plant which is really popular at the moment: restios. I love the red hot pokers, as they will flower nearly all year around, and agapanthus, which does so well in Cornwall.

Red hot poker

The New Zealand garden is doing well, because the plants in it are used to a climate very close to the Cornish one — maritime and damp. The things New Zealand is most famous for are cordylines and hebes. There’s also pittosporum — a plant the Treseder brothers brought back. In future, we may make the griselinia into a hedge, as this would leave more space for other things. Finally, there’s the Australia garden, which has mass plantings of eucalyptus, with osmanthus, bottle brushes and acacias.

What made you want to be involved with this project?

I liked the fact that this is a community project. I believe gardens are places for people to use, and this is an open space for local people, an oasis in an urban area. Land Use Consultants won the tender to do the design, and I think it’s really good. But as a gardener, I’m looking at things to change, move and develop. There’s a lot I can do here, and that excites me.