Crocus sieberi subsp. sublimis 'Tricolor'

March 2008: A conversation with owner Tricia Howard

You’ve created a fascinating four-acre garden from scratch in eight years. How did you do it?

Before we came here, there was a rundown Pick Your Own farm, and everything needed replanting. The soil is clay, and it was a very wet winter, so it was weeks before we could get onto the land. We marked out the beds, one at a time, rotovated them, and got mushroom compost in. There was no overall plan — the garden told us what to plant. We looked at the ground in each area, and thought: “What would look best in this position?” I had a lot of plants: I’d brought over 1,000 from our last garden in North Yorkshire.

How does gardening in Cornwall differ from gardening in Yorkshire?

Here, it’s warm and wet; there, it was cold and dry. I used to grow dianthus and French lavender in Yorkshire, but they really struggle here. I lost a lot. But my dahlias all love it here. I also grow a lot of iris, mostly beardless ones like the Siberian iris, because they cope better with wet conditions.

What can visitors see in the garden in March?

We have lots of primulas, and also cowslips from Yorkshire. You don’t see many in Cornwall, but they seem to have gone mad in my garden and naturalised. The tulips are just starting, particularly the species tulips in the raised beds. There are also various small alpines there. Elsewhere in the garden, there are daffodils — I go for miniature species, and the wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Marsh marigolds are out in March, and the hellebores should still be in bloom.

What are the special features of the garden?

A lot of Cornish gardens don’t have herbaceous borders. Ours give us continuous flowering throughout the season, from aquilegias in May to dahlias in September. We have a big circular bed with lots of flowers which attract bees, such as asters, buddleias and sedums. A local beekeeper has his hives in the far corner: they pollinate the flowers and we get some honey at the end of the season. My husband’s speciality is fruit — we’ve got a small orchard, with cherries, plums and apples, plus redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries and autumn raspberries. This year we’ll be growing vegetables for the first time — spinach, sweetcorn, cabbage, squashes, herbs, courgettes, onion and garlic — in six raised beds.

What are the best and worst things about gardening in a hidden valley?

We have a fairly sheltered site with a tree belt all round and a good fertile soil. It’s in a nice sunny position, and it’s south-facing. It’s very peaceful — apart from the railway line, but some people like to see the trains go past. The biggest problem is the winter wet. We are also a slight frost pocket, because we are low-lying, but the frost doesn’t last long.

Do you have a favourite part of the garden?

I love to sit in the Mediterranean garden by the gazebo, with a glass of wine. It has a lovely view of rolling hills, and gets the last of the evening sun. Some of my favourite plants are there — cistus, rosemary, myrtle, and even some lavenders which I have managed to coax into growing.

Rosmarinus officianalis 'Fota Blue'

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Fota Blue’

What do you think visitors enjoy about Hidden Valley?

The square beds seem to attract their interest. They’re colour-themed: lavender blue, pale yellow, and white, with clipped box for structure. We do well with our plant sales: most of the plants we sell are propagated here. Last year, plummy colours were fashionable. This year, it might be different! Astilbe sells quite well, and grasses like miscanthus are popular. There’s an informal atmosphere — we have a self-service tea hut, with biscuits and sometimes cake.


How has the garden developed over the last year?

As well as the vegetable garden, we’re developing a Japanese area. I love the simplicity of Japanese gardens. We’ve got lots of large granite stones from an old quarry, which had to be put in place using a large digger.There are wooden bridges, and the planting is acers, ferns and bamboo. There’s a natural spring in the iris garden, and a local stonemason is going to make a well to go there. We’re going to make it look old, and I’d like to have a plaque on it, saying: “I am Iris. I am the daughter of the marshland and the water”. This is from A Flower Fairy Alphabet, a book I loved as a child.

What are your plans for Hidden Valley now?

I want to finish off the projects I’ve started, like the Japanese garden and the potager. I hope to have more time to propagate — I enjoy growing for seed and taking cuttings. I haven’t got many climbers, so I’d like to put some trellis up and have some clematis. But most of all, I want to enjoy everything I’ve got here.