Photographs: Charles Francis
September 2015: A conversation with owners Andy and Kate Eaton
Tregonning will be open to the public for the first time this month. How did you create a garden on the slopes of one of the highest hills in West Cornwall?
Andy: When we came here, there was a copse, but the trees had been planted too close together, and some of them were dying. There was also a pond, but not much else. The first thing I did was to create a stream: I hired a little digger, and thought I’d be sweltering — it was July — but I spent two weeks in a puddle, because it didn’t stop raining. I also had the idea of splitting the stream and bringing it back together into a waterfall — a bit like the Euphrates, but not on that scale! If you look down on the garden from the house, the stream looks like the stem of a plant, the pond is the flower, and the seven beds at the sides are the leaves. They are among more than 200 flower and vegetable beds we’ve made. I do the design, and Kate is the plants person.
How did you decide what to plant?
Kate: We try and have a little bit of colour in the beds all year round. We like variety, and we like experimenting — if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, then we try something different. There is an undulating croquet lawn at the top of the garden, and at the side of it we’re planting camellias for spring interest, and hydrangeas for the summer. There’s a herbaceous border below the lawn.
What are the challenges of gardening here?
Andy: We’re 300ft up — the summit of Tregonning Hill is 600ft — and the north wind gives the top of the garden a hammering. Lower down, the south-easterlies can be quite nasty. There were three eucalyptus trees here, but by last winter, one was so huge that if it had fallen, it would have hit the house, so I cut it down. We still have the two at the front. I’ve pollarded one, and I’m taking the other down to a lower level, so it will be easier to manage. We’re working on a windbreak, but we don’t want to lose the view of the countryside, as we love it. We planted 50 ash saplings, interspersed with Douglas firs, and some of the ash trees are now 10ft tall. At the moment, touch wood, we don’t have any evidence of ash dieback.
What was your plan for the wood?
Kate: We’ve left it to grow wild, other than putting in paths. There are naturalised bluebells there, and we’ve planted snowdrops and hellebores. We now have a carp pond in the wood, and we’re going to have a fernery round it. We did have some carp in the original pond, but a heron kept pinching them
Andy: We think one of the carps survived a heron attack when he was in the other pond, as has only one eye. We call him Carpy One.
Your garden has some quirky features. Can you describe them?
Andy: My bit of madness is a lot of small hebes topped with a big one. It was originally going to be a boat, but I’m toying with the idea of making it into a whale. Duke’s Deck and Dell was built for our dog. There used to be two old carpets down there, and Duke used to like to sit on one of them. When we decided to tidy up that area, he had nowhere to sit, so I took pity on him and built the deck. Then there’s our mini golf course. You start off at Bluebell Bounce — so-called because bluebells grow there, and if the ball bounces there, there’s no knowing where it will go — and the last hole is over the bridge across the stream. In the summer, when we’re out here working until quite late, we always finish off with a game of golf.
You must be very proud of your well-stocked vegetable garden.
Kate: When it blows a gale at the top of the garden, it’s still very calm down there. We’re almost self-sufficient 12 months a year in veg — potatoes, leeks, parsnips, beetroot, sweetcorn, radish, spinach, sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, French beans, courgettes, spring onions, lettuce, peas… The dwarf peas were 7ft last year — you don’t expect peas to be taller than you are. And we have various apple and plum trees, strawberries and blackcurrants.
Andy: A few years ago we forgot to put netting around the blackcurrants and the birds stripped them.
What inspired you to open the garden to the public?
Kate: Loads of friends said we should open it, and we approached the National Gardens Scheme, never thinking there would be enough in the garden for us to be taken on. When Marion Stanley from the NGS came to see us, she said we would need to show we have 45 minutes’ worth of interest for visitors. Two hours later, we were still walking around. A lot of Cornish gardens open for the NGS in the spring, so we said we would go for September. The veg patch will be looking good, and we’ve tried to plant some bedding which will last into the autumn.
Andy: There will be asters, rudbeckias and blue, pink and white hydrangeas. And we’ve filled an old cart with dahlias, which should look nice.