Photographs: Charles Francis

December 2012: A conversation with Ann Trevarton, parks and street scene manager at Cornwall Council contractor Cormac Solutions, and park supervisor Daniel Murray

How long have the gardens been here?

Ann: This site was once a marsh which was flooded by the River Gannel at high tide. The gardens were laid out after the land was given to Newquay Urban District Council in the early 1900s, but the boating lake wasn’t created until the 1930s. It was the time of the Great Depression, and local unemployed men were paid dole money, a pasty every day, and tobacco — and their wives were given tea at the end of the week. Trenance Cottages, a row of houses built in the 18th century, before the gardens were here, are now owned by a charity and are being restored as a community facility and heritage centre.

What part do the gardens play in the life of Newquay?   

The gardens bridge the gap between the River Gannel and the town. The Trenance Valley as a whole is 26 acres and includes a zoo, swimming pool and play areas, but the gardens are a lovely tranquil place which attracts a range of wildlife — cormorants, dabchicks, coots, moorhens, swans — which have come in from the estuary and made a home here. We also have a stainless steel swan sculpture in the centre of the main lake.

Bird sculpture

The gardens are an integral part of Newquay, and local people are extremely proud of them. Volunteers from Newquay in Bloom do a lot of work here. Working with our staff, they’ve developed a new herbaceous bed which will give us an extended season of colour. This community involvement is invaluable.

Purple and yellow bed

How important are the lakes to the character of Trenance?

The boating lake is very popular in the summer. A couple of winters ago, it froze over, but we don’t advise people to rush and get their ice skates on — although locals did skate on it many years ago. De-silting the lakes takes a lot of work. The idea is to improve the depth of the water, and try to prevent algal blooms. We also have to cut the pond weed beneath the surface and drag it out. You have to get a boat to get across to do any work on the island beds. The style of planting has changed over the years: we’ve learned that you can’t go against nature. Plants have got to be tolerant of having their feet in water. The gunnera on the islands is thriving.

The woodland area is a lovely backdrop to the gardens, and there are also some impressive trees dotted around the gardens.  Can you describe some of them?

Daniel: We have a mixture of conifer and broad-leaved trees.  There are  quite a lot of old trees — radiata pines planted when the gardens were first put here and a very rare colletia, which has sharp thorns and is known as the Crucifix tree. It flipped over not long ago, but we were able to save it. The trees give colour all year round: Parrotia persica looks good in the autumn, and the large magnolia tree is beautiful in the spring. We’re planting a lot of new trees: a swamp cypress was planted for the Royal Wedding last year.

How have recent cold winters affected the gardens?

We go for things which can cope well with the environment, as it can be quite harsh here, with the wind whipping up through the estuary, and sometimes there’s frost. We lost echiums, some yuccas and a few euryops, and a mimosa which was 20 or 30 years old. We now protect the exotic plants with furry jackets, especially when the temperature gets into the minuses.

What has been happening in the gardens this year?

We did a lot of thinning, took out cotoneater, cedar and hazel, kept the devil’s walking sticks, choisya and mahonia, and put in viburnum, acanthus, bananas and skimmia. We’ve included two winter flowering species: Sarcococca hookeriana and Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’. The rose garden was opened nearly 20 years ago, and had 50 different varieties, but it was starting to look tired. This year, it’s been overhauled, and new roses have been planted, along with box and lavender. The benches have been repaired and the paths resurfaced, and there’s a new drainage system, and steel gazebo. We’ve also created a new Jubilee bed, which has a green and white theme.

Rose bed