A Cornish Sculpture Garden

Slate monolith sculpture by Darren Evans and view across to St Michael's Mount
The highlight of a recent trip to West Cornwall was Tremenheere Garden, near Penzance. It announces itself as a sculpture garden as soon you arrive; a slate monolith from a former Chelsea garden by Darren Evans rises up (above)and on the hill behind, a what appear to be a series of ancient stone pillars sway in the wind. (This is actually Penny Saunders’ Restless Temple, and the pillars are made of jointed wood).

But this is so much more than a conventional sculpture garden. It was carved into a sheltered valley in the 1990s, from land originally owned by the monks of St Michael’s Mount, then cultivated by the Tremeneere family. There’s no great house and sweeping driveway to restrict the layout. Instead, the gardens are structured around a series of winding paths that follow the natural camber of the valley and experimental planting which frames and punctuates the sculptures.

Mature broadleaf trees provide both shelter from prevailing winds and shade, and a stream winds through the valley floor, opening out into a series of natural ponds. The soil varies from neutral to acid, and the combination of habitats means that all sorts of plants flourish here, from boggy, sub-tropical, to rocky alpines.

Follow the paths along the hills and views to St Michael’s Mount open up across the sea; turn a corner and the planting becomes exotic, with the biggest gunneras I’ve ever seen, unusual bamboos and exotic palms, then grasses studded with dark sempervivens (below, left)and huge banks of agapanthus. In the wooded valley, tender wild Arisaema gingers flourish among the huge-fingered leaves of Tetrapanax papyrifer and tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica). And there’s a collection of palms, bamboos and unusual plants from south Africa and Mexico.

The sculpture is of varying quality; there’s a wonderful camera obscura, but my favourite is Tewlwolow Kernow, by James Turrrell, an elliptical white chamber, with a disc cut out of its top to frame the sky. You reach it via a tunnel cut into a mound, and there you sit, perfectly reclined and gaze up at the sky and the clouds. At night the whole garden is floodlit, so if you’re lucky enough to go then, you can meditate under the stars.

Dark sempervivens, agapanthus and grasses
Exotic tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica) line the valley at Tremeneere Gardens

www.tremenheere.co.uk

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