Lost Gardens of Heligan a real find in Cornwall

by | United Kingdom

More than gardens, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are a botanical, archeological and historical wonder tucked onto a hillside surrounded by quaint English villages.

But make no mistake about it: Whether you are a fan of hiking, history, flowers, botany, mysteries, or stories of restoration, the Lost Gardens (www.heligan.com) are for you, kids and adults alike. The most riveting part of how these pristine, working gardens rose like a Phoenix from decades of neglect will fascinate you as it did us.

Lost Gardens of Heligan brief history

In sum: The 81-hectare (200-acre) garden area was first mentioned in the 12th century when the Manor was built. The Tremayne family purchased it in 1569, and it is still owned by the Tremayne estate. Over the centuries, gardens and structures were built, vegetable gardens and fruit orchards established, greenhouses constructed, and ponds and theme gardens designed. But the First World War was the beginning of the decline in 1914. It fell into total disrepair later in the century.

Lost Gardens of Heligan greenhouses and buildings

It wasn’t until 1990 that Tremayne heir John Willis brought businessman and Eden Project  founder Tim Smit to the now-jungle. Foraging and bushwhacking, they discovered collapsed structures, overgrown fountains, and the remains of once-meticulous gardens. Historical sleuthing and research led them to photos that helped them piece together what the jungle once looked like to help them restore it as closely as possible to what it was.

The Times newspaper dubbed the restoration project “the garden restoration of the century,” and it indeed is. After years of repair and renovation (which continues to this day), management has done a wonderful job not only with presenting beautiful gardens but also highlighting educational opportunities. We loved the photos and stories in various areas that showed before and after, and discussed construction and restoration demands, plus any changes made to the original.

Even the tool shed is fun to look into at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Of course, the Lost Gardens of Heligan can also be enjoyed just as gardens: They are an opportunity for a great walk and outdoors escape. Although on a beautiful day there are lots of people, there is a certain respect for Heligan that makes it possible to find quiet corners – or just to enjoy peace on a corner of a lawn, savoring the work that has returned these expansive gardens to a place of splendor.

Walking into the jungle in the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Prices: Adults GBP 15 (about USD $19) with discounts for seniors, students and families. If you are going to be dropping in more than a couple of times, an annual “Friends of Heligan” pass at GBP 35 (about USD $44) is a deal.

Inside the Lost Gardens of Heligan walking among the edible plants

HITT Tip: Give yourself at least 3-4 hours to properly enjoy strolling around most of the gardens. If you want to take a picnic (or buy supplies at the Farm Shop or restaurants there) and hang out on one of many expansive lawns or hidden benches, give yourself more time. Kids will also love the discovery games scattered throughout the gardens as well as swings and playgrounds.
Lost Gardens of Heligan ocean view in a hidden garden area

HITT Tip: Don’t miss the Lost Gardens of Heligan Jungle rope bridge, thought to be the longest such bridge in Britain at 100 feet. It takes you on a sometimes wobbly but happy journey across the jungle basin (22 feet up) with views of tall ferns and tropical plants.
Therese waling across the Lost Gardens of Heligan famous rope bridge.

HITT Tip: The largest nearby town is Mevagissey (www.mevagissey.net) – also a worthy visit in its own right. Wander around the working docks and through the narrow winding streets. And don’t forget to enjoy some famous Cornish ice cream (rich and buttery). Or, if you’re in need of a light afternoon meal, perhaps indulge in a Cream Tea (a.k.a. Devonshire Tea) that traditionally includes scones, clotted cream, jam and of course tea.

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Lost Gardens Of Heligan

Heads up! This information on the the Lost Gardens of Heligan was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.

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Therese Iknoian

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian now focuses her writing and photography talents on travel. Fluent in German, Therese also runs a translation business (ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. She's a French speaker, and loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication. Therese is an award-winning member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
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