Photographs: Charles Francis
February 2012: A conversation with head gardener Tommy Teagle
Spring seems to come early to Lanhydrock. Which plants can visitors expect to see in bloom in February?
In the higher garden, some of the camellias – like ‘Cornish Snow’ and ‘Donation’ – will be in flower, and probably Magnolia campbellii ‘Alba’, too. There will also be hellebores and white and red quince, and a lot of snowdrops in the woodland garden. We had a competition to design a colourful tulip display for our parterre, which was won by a young girl who was a visitor here last spring. The display may start coming into flower by February, but March will be the best time to see it.
What are the garden’s greatest attractions in the coming months?
The magnolias and camellias are the biggest feature in springtime: our magnolia archway will be in flower in April. In fact, there is usually a magnolia in flower every month of the year – we have 130 different varieties.
Camellia ‘Cornish Snow’
Camellia ‘November Pink’
There are also a lot of hydrangeas, which flower from May to the first frost. The soil is very acidic here, which is great for blue hydrangeas. We have a good succession of flowering bulbs, starting with snowdrops in January and February, then daffodils from February to April, and bluebells until the end of May. There is summer colour in the formal garden, and we’ve also planted autumn-flowering shrubs, like a few varieties of pulmonaria and electric blue salvias.
Lanhydrock is one of Cornwall’s greatest estates. How much is known about the history of the garden?
The house was built in the 1600s, and there was some sort of garden here then. The formal garden dates from 1857, but the higher garden was created before then, in the early 1800s: paths were put in then, and various shrubs. From the higher garden you get great views of the roof of the house and Bodmin Moor. We know that there was once what was called a stony garden, which we think had fruit trees. Lanhydrock was given to the National Trust in 1953, and the herbaceous border was created in 1971. The woodland garden is also very much a National Trust creation. In total, there are 30 acres of garden, and nearly 1,000 acres of estate.
What’s the story behind the thatched summer house?
It was built to recognise the work of National Trust staff who made good the damage throughout the country after the great storm of January 1990. We lost 1,100 trees in all. The wind was making quite an eerie sound on that day: I had heard nothing like it before, and I have heard nothing like it since. The trees were coming down like matchsticks. It meant a lot of work, but it was a good opportunity to replant. We planted a thicker shelterbelt of 23,000 trees to give us more protection from the south-west winds. The summerhouse was funded by donations from National Trust associations in Cornwall and other places, and opened by Peter Borlase, who was head gardener here from 1966 until he retired in 1993.
Tommy Teagle outside the 1990 summerhouse
Have the last two cold winters caused any further damage?
We didn’t lose very much. The higher garden is cold and faces north-east, so we don’t grow exotics there. The plants which we do grow there are acclimatised to the east wind. The few cannas we have in the herbaceous borders we dig up every year. Last year, of course, we had the wonderful mild autumn. We had rhododendrons in flower which would not normally be out at that time.
What are your plans for 2012?
Our commercial plant nursery has been built up over the years. It now supplies all the National Trust properties in the south region, and we hope to cover all the south-west and some of the south-east. We’ve been growing everything in peat-free compost since 1999: the compost looks drier, but when you delve further down, it isn’t. It just means weed seeds don’t grow on top. In the garden, we’ll be planting 20,000 extra snowdrops, so we’ll have a good splash of colour in the coming years. The season just gone has been our busiest year ever, and we’re looking forward to another busy year.