Photographs: Charles Francis
October 2015: A conversation with owner Neil Armstrong
It is three years since Tremenheere opened to the public. How has the garden evolved since then?
There has always been a contrast between the hot, sunny slopes overlooking Mount’s Bay, and the cool, shady valley. The planting in the valley has matured a lot, and become much more luxuriant. There are big tree ferns, large-leaved rhododendrons and Chinese and Vietnamese schefflera. We also have New Zealand conifers, and Juania australis, a very rare palm – it’s normally difficult to grow, but it finds the Cornish climate perfect. And when a beech tree fell down in this area of the garden, it created a sunny glade there. With greater maturity, there is more wildlife coming into the garden. A large number of oak trees are now going in, because they’re very wildlife-friendly.
The garden is also well-known as a showcase for contemporary sculpture. Can you describe some of the latest additions to the collection?
The Restless Temple is very striking, particularly at night. It’s the brainchild of Penny Saunders from the theatre company Forkbeard Fantasy, and is a kinetic sculpture with 14 uplit columns, with downlit pendulums underneath. This enables the columns to move in the wind, which challenges our preconceptions – it’s disconcerting to see a temple moving. It’s an extraordinary, majestic work, accessible to all sorts of people: kids love it, and adults are fascinated by it as a feat of engineering. It will be here for at least two years.
There are also two big, powerful pieces, Howling Beast 1 and Crouching Beast 2, by Lynn Chadwick, a very highly respected sculptor.
The idea is to have certain sculptures going away and others arriving, so that the garden is never over-cluttered. But there are also new permanent works. Mat Chivers’ Hybrid is a cloud form on one side, and the other side is computer-generated and angular.
And near the highest point in the garden, the artist Richard Long has injected a line of tall grasses into the landscape. It encourages visitors to stop and take in the vista of trees and south-facing slopes, and the wider view of the sea.
Then there are the long-established works, like Skyspace …
Skyspace, or Tewlwolow Kernow, is a tunnel leading to a chamber lit by a simple solar panel, which has an open view to the sky. The name means “Cornwall at dusk”, which is when it is designed to be seen.
This summer, we’ve been inviting people to have a meal here and then go into Skyspace as the sky grows dark. Skyspace is very popular with children – there are always lots of little feet climbing on the seat which goes all round the chamber. We’ve also had an unexpected visitor: a buzzard which flew in through the open space in the ceiling. It was quite startled!
What are your current projects?
The new mid terrace is a very warm, sunny area, and has sedums, restios, proteas and South African heathers. There is also a new bit of the garden above Skyspace, which was just a field of brambles and bracken. It’s being planted with South African bulbs and New Zealand grasses, and will have a different feel from anywhere else in the garden – an atmosphere of big skies and prairie planting.
We have a new nursery and restaurant, and we’re planning to build a new art gallery, due to open in the spring, a simple multi-function space which can be used for gatherings and talks.
A garden inspired by industrial history which won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show this year now has a permanent home at Tremenheere. How did this come about?
The garden was designed by Darren Hawkes, who lives in Fowey. He was visiting Tremenheere, and really liked what he saw. His garden used a series of wooden platforms and 41,000 pieces of slate, and he asked me if I was interested in having it here. It will be a quiet sitting area by the pond at the edge of the garden – we hope to have a jetty going across the pond to access it. I like the idea that it was designed by a Cornwall-based designer, and is now back in Cornwall. It will be finished in time for our National Garden Scheme open day in October.
What else is happening on that day?
There will be a Rare and Wonderful Plant Fair, where visitors can buy exotic species from different nurseries. We’re one of the last gardens in Britain to open for the NGS this year. A lot of Cornish gardens are open in the spring, so we thought we would go for the autumn, and take our chances with the weather. If it’s misty, the garden will look magical.
You must be very satisfied with the enthusiastic response of visitors to Tremenheere?
Our visitors are up by 25 per cent this year. We’ve always had very positive feedback, despite contemporary art not being everyone’s cup of tea. This is an all-season garden, subtropical and evergreen. There’s quite a wow factor from the palm trees, restios and proteas; people don’t expect to see them thriving outdoors in England. The spirit of Tremenheere is one of all pervading calm. It is a bonus that it also happens to be beautiful and interesting, and have stunning views.