Photographs: Charles Francis
May 2010: A conversation with owner Lucie Nottingham
Trenarth’s first open day this year is on the evening of May 23. What made you decide to go for a 6pm opening?
I’m hoping it will be like a giant party. There will be wine and bits and pieces to eat, so it will be a very civilised way of going round the garden. People will be able to sit on the terrace in front of the house with a glass in their hand, enjoying the lovely pastoral views. The garden at Navas Hill House, on the other side of the valley, is opening the same afternoon, and from there you can walk through a bluebell wood and up to Trenarth. I think it’s rather nice to share the garden. I also wanted to give my gardener, Jeremy Pedersen, the chance to share his enthusiasm. In seven months, he really has done an enormous amount here. We’ll also be opening one afternoon later in the summer. There’s a garden room with palms and orange and lemon trees where we have cream teas.
What do you know of the history of the garden?
There’s a listed garden wall, which appears to date from the 18th century, and three orchards are marked on a 19th century map. A photograph from about 1935 shows a row of cordylines marching across the lawn. The walled garden was then used as a kitchen garden, and after the war, greenhouses were built there, and subsequently yew hedges to create rooms.
In the 1960s, belts and copses of trees were planted. Together, these features provided an invaluable backdrop for garden-making. With the exception of a few mature camellias and apple trees, everything has been planted since we came here 18 years ago.
How would you describe the garden you have created here?
The garden gives year-round interest, in terms of colour, shape and scent. In spring there is chaenomeles and apple blossom, which is lovely, and in late summer and autumn, we have all sorts of different hydrangeas by the listed wall. There is no water here, so an artificial bog and water garden was dug out and puddled with clay.
The walled garden now has asparagus, strawberries, currants and raspberries.
Californian fuchsia (Ribes speciosum)
In the orchard, we have mistletoe growing on a couple of apple trees, which you don’t find very often in Cornwall.
What are the special features of Trenarth?
It’s a good wildlife garden. We have lesser horseshoe bats living in the cellar from April to September. This year, we’ll have a camera focussing on the roost, and people can watch the bats from a screen in the kitchen. Jeremy and Jemima, the mallards, come most summers, and are very tame, but they are childless, which is sad.
There are also a number of quirky features …
Things in this garden are not always what they seem! The lettering on our red telephone box looks original, but instead of “Telephone” it says “Lavatory” – because that is what it now is.
There’s a standing stone which is not an ancient structure placed on a leyline – it was only put there six years ago. Charlie the terracotta warrior was made in Cornwall, but inspired by a genuine Chinese figure.
We had planted an avenue of holm oaks in front of the house, and it needed something at the end for people to look at. The ornamental iron gates were made for the Port of Liverpool building in 1907: they happened to be in an architectural salvage sale.
What are the pains and pleasures of gardening on this site?
Trenarth means “house of the high place”, and as we are so high, we are open to south westerlies. We’re also surrounded by fields, so we have problems with badgers, rabbits, squirrels and pheasants — and weeds. On the positive side, being on a slope going down to the woods means the garden is very well-drained. The walled garden has been cultivated for several hundred years, so the soil there is very good. We are down at the end of a lane, and cannot see or hear a road. Trenarth is not a frost pocket, so we can grow most things.
What’s been happening at Trenarth during the last year?
We made a new gravel garden in September, with a water feature – an old granite wheelwright’s stone with a fountain – and palms and agapanthus.
We’re also planting a lot of different bamboos, and we have revamped the herbaceous borders, with lots of kniphofias, sedums and michaelmas daisies. In one field, we’ve planted different birches and dogwoods with seats made from one of the Monterey pines which came down last year. There was an avenue of them once, but there is only one now. We’ve lost a lot of succulents — aeoniums and agaves — in the last two winters, as well as some of the plants in the new gravel garden, which hadn’t had time to get their feet down. We did protect the banana over the winter – other things have to take pot luck. But the garden does have some protection from trees and the house.