Photographs: Charles Francis
July 2014: A conversation with owners Stephen and Kate Tyrrell
Bosvathick is a traditional Cornish estate, seemingly untouched by time. What is the story behind it?
Stephen: Bosvathick has been owned by my wife’s family, the Moors and Horsfords, for more than 350 years, and includes several farms and tenancies. The house dates from 1760 — when it replaced an Elizabethan house — and there is also a Victorian wing. Much of it is still as it was before the First World War. The house has been open to the public for three or four years, but this is the first year we have opened the garden. As far as we know, it has only been open twice in the last century. We have been working on the garden slowly for the last ten to 12 years, and we are now restoring and developing it. We want it to be seen by others — we don’t want to keep it for ourselves. The people who have been here so far seem to like it: they have been really quite complimentary.
Kate: As it has never really changed hands, it is in a bit of a time warp. Visitors say it is like drifting back to the 19th century. The wisteria in front of the house was planted by my grandmother in 1926, but the garden is mostly Victorian. When we came here 20 years ago, there was dense laurel right up to the edges of the drive, and some people wouldn’t come here because it was so creepy. It’s wonderful to be getting rid of the laurel. Bluebells and primroses are coming up where they never did before. It’s really exciting.
What are the features of this time-warp garden?
Stephen: As well as the spring wildflower display, which starts with snowdrops — we have an enormous number of them — there are some really good specimens of magnolia, classic rhododendrons and azaleas. Near the house is the largest Pieris formosa var forrestii in Cornwall: we don’t know how long it’s been here.
There are three Celtic crosses by the lake, which are 12th or 13th century; one may even be from the 8th century. They would once have been used to mark the paths to the church and the boundaries of the parish of Constantine. We have a granite cider press in the centre of the orchard, and masses of other granite which we’re trying to spread around the garden. Some of it came from the original Elizabethan house, and there is also a granite stone from Glasney College at Penryn, which was destroyed in the 16th century.
The outbuildings include a renovated earth closet — where you can sit and read a book — and a stable and coach block built in the 1890s. Shortly after this was completed, the family bought a motor car, so it has never been used.
How has the restoration of the garden progressed since you got rid of all that laurel?
Stephen: The weather this winter was frightful, and we lost nine trees, but we have been planting steadily since then, and have taken delivery of lorry-loads of plants. We’re clearing the woodland, and we’ve planted more shrubs there. The orchard was planted out this year; the hedge at the edge of it is going to have beehives all along it. The lake, which was added to the garden in the 1920s, had silted up, and we had to dredge it twice.
We’re now making a path round it. Closer to the house, we have made a garden enfilade. Enfilade is an architectural term for a series of rooms which can all been seen from the first room. Our enfilade has steps, sculptures, flower beds, a gate, and a fountain, all framed by the trees beyond.
The sunken garden is Victorian. It is full of ferns, and among them, we have added sculptured heads of members of our family, which were made by a relative. I’ve had blood painted on the heads, but my wife keeps covering up the red paint with earth, as she thinks it will frighten the children who come here.
What can visitors see in the garden in July and beyond?
Kate: Our son-in-law, Frank Nieuwenhuis, is now the head gardener here, and we’ve given him a free rein. He’s Dutch and has brought a bit of symmetry into the garden. He has also designed two large flower beds on the terraces which have been planted for summer colour. The plants include agaphanthus, Japanese anemones, aconitum, penstemons, echinops and astrantias. He is planting more summer-flowering shrubs around the garden and there are hydrangeas all over the place. So in years to come, there should be colour right through until the autumn.