Grevillea rosmarinifolia

Photograph: Charles Francis


May 2008: A conversation with owner Elizabeth Henslowe

How did an Irish garden come to be created in Liskeard?

My aunt and uncle, Moira and Louis Reid, came over from Ireland when they were married in 1927, and brought car-loads of plants and shrubs from my grandfather’s garden in Ennis. The climate there is warm and wet, as it is here. In 1936, they bought extra land to make the garden up to an acre. My aunt collected plants from the great gardens in Cornwall, but considered Moyclare to be an Irish garden, and was annoyed when John Betjeman described it in the visitors’ book as “a perfect piece of England”. It was called Moyclare because she was always known as Moy, and she came from County Clare.

How has Moyclare changed since you took it on? 

My aunt once wrote an article for The Garden called Cramming Them In, which is exactly what she liked to do. When she died in 1993, Moyclare was a bit of a jungle. My husband and I began with some remedial pruning, then when we moved here in 1997, we started to catalogue everything, with the help of my aunt’s gardening friends and Duchy of Cornwall Nursery. I found lists of plants from the 1980s, and a scrappy plan for the garden from 1953, which helped. We wanted to keep the ethos without turning it into a museum.

This is the first year that Moyclare has opened regularly during the spring. What are you planning for your open days?

We’ve built a garden shelter where we will serve tea with home-made cakes. There will be a display of the history of Moyclare, and storyboards around the garden, and we will sell plants such as seedling camellias and hellebores. Renovating a garden is an expensive hobby, and every penny we make will be ploughed back into the renovation, apart from National Gardens Scheme and charity bookings.

Elizabeth Henslowe

What can visitors see in May?

There are late camellias, and many of our 75 azaleas and 40 rhododendrons. The bright red Pieris forestii ‘Wakehurst’ will be out, alongside Rhododendron augustinii, which is like a blue waterfall. Myrtus apiculata is absolutely covered with scented, creamy double flowers. There is clematis everywhere, and the fuchsias are just starting. Acradenia frankliniae from Tasmania is heavily-scented, with white flowers in May, followed by white berries.

What other special plants do you have?

My aunt was instrumental in the introduction of Griselinia littoralis ‘Bantry Bay’ into England by Neil Treseder; it grew in south-west Ireland. Several camellias are specific to the garden, such as ‘Moira Reid’. J C Williams of Caerhays gave her some seed and told her to name the best one after herself.

Camellia x williamsii 'Moira Reid'

Camellia x williamsii ‘Moira Reid’

There is also Astrantia major ‘Moira Reid’, which had an RHS floral committee award of merit in 1991, and Bracchyglottis ‘Moira Reid’ and Cytisus ‘Moyclare’ were discovered here.

What has been happening in the garden this year?

We’ve cleared an area of laurel, and put in white foxgloves and our own hellebore seedlings, which should bloom next year. A contorted hazel was toppled in the March storms. A eucalyptus given to us by the writer Beverly Nicholls in 1963, which is over 40 feet tall, is being attacked by honey fungus, and will have to be felled this autumn, which is a shame, as it is such a landmark. I want to starve out the honey fungus: spruce bark mulch is thought to be successful in keeping it under control. We will then replace the eucalyptus with a tree which is honey fungus-resistant, and the east garden will be replanted as a shrubbery.

What are your favourite plants?

The climbing rose ‘Cecile Brunner’ was in my wedding bouquet. It’s a pale pink china rose, and I have quite a few around the garden. Rosa ‘Ards Rover’ came from my grandfather’s garden in 1927. I love the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, for sentimental reasons — it’s native to Killarney, near where I come from. There’s a 75-year-old fern from Ireland, Osmunda regalis: in a damp summer, the fronds grow to 10 feet. The cream-coloured Rhododendron ‘Letty Edwards’ is gorgeous, especially when the sun sets. I have a dwarf lemon which bears enough fruit for marmalade and Christmas pudding.

What would your aunt think of the garden now?

We have a memorial plaque to her and my uncle here, with a line from a W B Yeats poem: “Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams”. It seems the right quotation, as Moyclare was their dream. Sometimes, when I’m in the garden with secateurs in my hand, I can hear my aunt saying: “Child — what are you doing?” But I’ve tried to keep it as she would have done. She loved variegated plants, so I’ve continued to plant them where suitable. She liked blue, and there is still a lot of blue here.