Home to some of the most outstanding beauty spots in England. From white sandy beaches to subtropical gardens. As well as an abundance of historic sites. It’s no surprise that the National Trust in Cornwall has over 50 places to visit across the county.
With its mild coastal climate, Cornwall is home to some of Britain’s most spectacular gardens. Best known are the great gardens of Cornwall dating back to the 19th century and built on the fruits of Victorian plant hunting expeditions. But there is great variety there too. From woodland gardens to landscaped parkland to sub-tropical glades, there is something of interest to even the most serious horticulturalist.
More than half of the Cornish coast is owned by the National Trust. And much of Cornwall’s industrial heritage has also been preserved by the charity with the purchases of tin mining sites and fishing coves. With knowledgeable staff and volunteers on hand. The places that they manage are perfect for all ages for discovering the sights, sounds and stories of Kernow (Cornwall in Cornish). Here we look at just a few of Cornwall’s best gardens in no particular order.
Caerhays Castle and Gardens, Saint Austell
Situated on the Roseland Peninsula, not far from Mevagissey is the beachside ‘castle’ and estate of Caerhays. The gardens are mainly attributed to the bravery of J.C Williams who scoured the world for exotic species such as rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and camellias. Open from March to May, this is when the gardens are at their best.
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Saint Austell
Also located near Mevagissey and brought back to their former glory by Tim Smit of Eden Project fame are the Lost Gardens of Heligan. There are several gardens within Heligan, including four walled gardens, Japanese and Italian gardens and the ‘Jungle’ with its sub-tropical plants.
Trebah Garden, near Falmouth
Rated one of the top 80 gardens in the world, this spectacular 26-acre garden easily makes it onto the list. Trebah Garden descends 200 feet through a steep valley to a private beach on the River Helford. It is well stocked with sub-tropical and exotic species imported by Quaker polymath Charles Fox. Over time, the gardens were neglected. However, in 1981, they were bought by Tony and Eira Hibbert, who spent the next 22 years restoring them to their former glory.
Tresco Abbey Gardens, Isles of Scilly
The mild climate of the Isles of Scilly makes it one of the only places in the UK where such a range of tropical plants can survive in the open. Not only do banana and citrus trees grow here, but they also regularly produce fruit! The gardens were originally planted by Augustus Smith in the 19th century in the grounds of the ruined abbey. The combination of ruins, sea vistas and unusual exotics make this a standout garden.
Trewithen Gardens, near Truro
Set in the heart of Cornwall, Trewithen is a large estate surrounding an impressive and elegant 17th-century manor house. Trewithen means ‘house of the trees’ and this could refer to both quantity and quality – the garden boasts 24 ‘champion trees’ as well as woodland walks and picnic areas. There is also a working nursery at Trewithen propagating in excess of 1500 species.
Trengwainton Gardens, near Penzance
The garden at Trengwainton was begun in earnest in the early 19th century. However, the features that define and set this garden apart mostly date back to the first half of the 20th century by the Bolitho family. Many exotics were imported from the Far East, including magnolias, camellias and the rhododendrons which line the drive. There are woodland walks through tree fern glades and a very impressive walled kitchen garden. Also worth a visit to the tea rooms – pricey, but good food and set in a walled garden of its own. The gardens are National Trust managed whilst the house remains private.
Glendurgan Garden, near Falmouth
Just down the road from Trebah is yet another fantastic valley garden leading down to the sea. This is one of the best-known sub-tropical National Trust gardens in Cornwall, featuring exotic flowers, bamboo and huge tree ferns. Spanning three valleys, the lush jungle-like gardens are peppered with enchanting trails which wind their way through a myriad of tropical delights including a giant tulip tree and the garden’s famous laurel maze, originally planted in 1833.
There are numerous fantastic viewpoints looking out over the Helford River and a walk to the bottom will take you to the pretty fishing village of Durgan. The main garden has many fantastic trees along with numerous rhododendron, magnolias, camellias and hydrangeas. There are a number of features, including a laurel maze, the ‘old school room’ and Holy Corner, with its selection of trees. Again, the National Trust manage the gardens at Glendurgan whilst the house remains private.
With dog walking, exploring, and 300 acres of beautiful woodland and coastline, Glendurgan Garden has a tonne of options for you. With a garden conservatory, ample dog walking, there’s plenty to see, and there’s also a tea house on site. And also, with a 180-year-old maze and stunning views, you have all the ingredients for a stunning day out.
Eden Project, Saint Austell
There is no denying the Eden Project’s iconic status. Opened in 2001, Eden claims the title of being the world’s largest greenhouse. That would, however, be selling it short. The two ‘biomes’, as they are called, are a series of interconnected domes divided into a tropical and Mediterranean region. These contain plants and trees representative of the region, with a further temperate region contained in the outside area. The Eden Project sits awkwardly between being an educational/environmental centre and a tourist attraction.
Cotehele, near Saltash
The fantastic Tudor house at Cotehele is surrounded by both formal and natural gardens. To the front of the house is a terraced garden, whilst to the rear, there are orchards and a grand lily pond. Leading down to the riverside is a valley garden with a medieval stew pond and dovecote. There are also miles of woodland walks leading down to and along the banks of the River Tamar and Cotehele Quay.
Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, Saint Ives
Unlike the great gardens of Cornwall, the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden is not awash with plants from the four corners of the globe. It is a peaceful oasis of art and nature away from the crowds in the bustling town of St Ives. The garden features bronze, stone and wood sculptures by one of Britain’s most important 20th-century artists. Whether accidental or not, the forms perfectly complement the mainly sub-tropical plants.
Lanhydrock House, Bodmin
One of the best-preserved and presented National Trust houses in Cornwall, Lanhydrock is a grand Victorian country property in Bodmin with fifty beautiful rooms to explore. Wander through the kitchens, nurseries and servants’ quarters to gain a glimpse of life ‘below stairs’, before discovering the comforts of ‘upstairs’ living within the luxurious family areas, elegant dining room, and spacious bedrooms.
Set within 1,000 acres of parkland and landscaped gardens with clouds of magnolias in spring, walkers, cyclists and families can enjoy the estate throughout the year. The Lanhdrock garden and its vast wooded estate is a real treat for all the family. Lanhdrock has the most beautiful gardens and open spaces that are built for picnics, summer day walks, and family adventures.
They often have open gardens, and the parklands offer acres of space for you and your family to roam. They actively encourage picnics and the serene backdrops and lush summer sights really are the place to do it.
Kynance Cove, The Lizard
With its sparkling turquoise water, pristine white sand and colourful serpentine rock stacks, it’s easy to see why Kynance Cove is one of the most popular National Trust beaches in Cornwall. Found on the west side of the iconic Lizard Peninsula, this is one of the most photographed coves in the country.
It has even starred in Poldark as Ross and Demelza’s beach at Nampara. Take a dip in the crystal-clear sea and, at low tide, explore its mysterious caves and blowholes, including one named the Post Office for its ability to create enough suction to draw a letter into it!
Owned by the National Trust in North Cornwall. Boscastle is a picturesque natural harbour and unspoilt village surrounded by spectacular coastal walks. Just 5 miles north of Tintagel. You can spend a leisurely afternoon dipping in and out of the village’s quaint shops and tearooms. As well as enjoy a Cornish clotted cream ice cream on the Elizabethan quay while watching the fishermen bringing in their catch. Venture beyond the charming harbour and you can follow the cliff path to Willapark headland. And an intriguing ex-folly, now used as a Coastwatch lookout.
St Michael’s Mount, Marazion
Steeped in over 1,000 years of history and folklore. St Michael’s Mount in Marazion is certainly one of the National Trust sites in Cornwall not to miss. When the tide is out, stroll across the causeway where a legendary giant once walked or hop on a boat to reach this incredible island crowned by a magnificent medieval castle and church. Scale the fairy-tale turrets of this treasured landmark and admire the mesmerising views over the surrounding sub-tropical terraced garden and across Mount’s Bay, before tucking into some fresh seafood or a cream tea in the restaurant or cafe.
Levant Mine and Beam Engine, near Saint Just
Dramatically perched on the exposed cliffs of the ‘Tin Coast’, Levant Mine and Beam Engine are some of the best National Trust places in Cornwall for those eager to discover more about the county’s fascinating mining heritage. Near St Just and part of the UNESCO Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, the main engine house is home to the oldest beam engine in Cornwall, which has been fully restored and rebuilt and is once more being driven by steam. Take part in a guided tour to discover more about the Levant’s history and pick up a ticket to see the beam engine in action.
Trevose Head, near Padstow
Looking for impressive views over the great Atlantic Ocean? Trevose Head offers views for miles along with the coast and a place surrounded by the crashing seas and brisk sea air. You’re spoilt for choice with walks here around this jutting landscape with some great footpaths and plenty of headlands to explore, too.
Trevose Head also works closely with the RSPB and is home to many fascinating and rarely seen birds, including fulmars, razorbills, peregrines, and guillemots.
Cape Cornwall, Saint Just
Cape Cornwall has a distinctive headland that extends out into the ocean right at the point where two great bodies of seawater meet. It is part of the Tin Coast and Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. If you’re the adventurous type, then you’re in luck here. With a priest’s cove, the Brisons Rocks and walks to the Cape, you’ll find plenty to explore.
With a history dating back to 1894 when the Cape Cornwall Mine was in operation. The site holds many stories about the history of the area in a space familiar with shipwrecks and sea stories of yesteryear. It’s a fabulous place to visit and take a seaway walk.
Trelissick Garden, near Truro
Trelissick is a welcoming country house and garden set in a beautiful estate complete with stunning maritime views and peaceful woodland walks. The house itself is steeped in history and intrigue and is the perfect place for the adventurer to visit. From forgotten rooms to secret tunnels and boxes of mysterious keys. This attraction is the perfect place for the discoverer in you.
With parklands, woodland walks and their picturesque gardens, you’ll find lots to do all year round. They also have a café on-site, too.
With such a wide variety of National Trust properties, gardens and beaches to explore in Cornwall. Many of them feature tearooms and gift shops. As well as special events throughout the year, plus trails, quizzes and play areas for children – several allow dogs too. And if you’re a National Trust member, you may even be able to enter the sites for free. Whether you’re searching for a romantic retreat for two, a big bolthole for the whole family. Or even a place where your dog will feel just as welcome as you. The national trust gardens in Cornwall offer something for everyone.