Gardens Club Trip Report
2012 Wisley Trainees Gardens Club Trip:
Gardens Club Trip Report
Table of Contents
The Eden Project
Final Comments
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Excellence in Horticulture
Wildlife and Education
Information and Interpretation
Final Comments
The Garden House
Information and Interpretation
Final Comments
Contributions to report
Many thanks to the Gardens Club for providing the resources to conduct this trip.
Front Cover: A view inside the tower at The Garden House.
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The Eden Project
The key focus at Eden is to educate the public in the uses and function of plants. To drive that focus
Eden has a staff of 20, covering an area of 35 acres in the pit and another 160 acres in the outer
estate, compared to Wisley’s 90 garden staff caring for 240 acres. The soil was originally imported,
along with 30,000 worms to improve the condition of the growing media and to allow for plant
waste to be recycled.
Working practices in Eden are determined by the layout of the landscape, the ‘pit’ area is small and
steep and so no wheelbarrows are used, all waste is transported via gators to an area outside the pit
where it is composted. Use of bio control is employed within the biomes and is not limited to
traditional predators such as wasps and nematodes - lizards, birds and tree frogs are also used!
The entrance to Eden’s horticultural area has a huge emphasis on visual impact. Immediately on walking
through the main entrance the biomes are there in all their enormity suffused with ornamental displays
around. Effectively employing a memory invoking technique such as this ensures the visitor has a strong
reference point from which they will remember their trip on.
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Eden aims to keep visitor numbers high throughout the year by providing continual interest and
considering the ratio of staff to garden area, the general standard of the garden was very high.
Permanent structure alongside seasonal plantings ensures that there is always something of interest,
for example the evergreen Quercus ilex (holm oak) provides a strong backbone to more ephemeral
displays in the Outdoor Biome. In addition a series of events runs throughout the year to make
return visits more appealing, while a yearly membership also encourages return visitors and is the
same price as a day ticket (when you gift aid the admission charge).
Plants at Eden are primarily chosen for educational purposes, and their appealing, well considered
display ensures a positive visitor experience. For instance the annual sweet pea display both looks
attractive but is also instructive, demonstrating to visitors the history of the plant through planting
in chronological order according to breeding history.
At Eden, it was clear that many of the beds have been designed to demonstrate how plants live in
their native environments. For example, the Protea’s and other plants from South Africa were
within one section of the Warm Temperate Biome. Plants were also grown in ways that displayed
their natural habits e.g. lianas in the rainforest were
growing up other trees, as opposed to man-made
structures. This imitation of the natural environment
enables visitors to learn more about how plants
grow in the wild. Meanwhile as horticulturalists, it
is always beneficial to see the habitats and growing
conditions of a plant as an indication of how its
grows best and how it might be displayed
The vegetable garden at Eden differs greatly from
the one at Wisley, not to say that one is better than
the other, they just have a slightly different purpose.
Wi s l e y ’s v e g e t a b l e g a r d e n d e m o n s t r a t e s
horticultural excellence, immaculate and full of
different produce, a showcase of what can be
achieved given space and time. However it could
also be viewed as unrealistic for the majority of
people who cannot tend their plots eight hours a
day, and possibly intimidating for the amateur
grower. The vegetable garden at Eden has the
impression of being more attainable and fun, which
should be encouraging for people who are thinking
of growing vegetables themselves.
Nastursiums clamber about a banana on the
vegetable plot at Eden, here an allotment style
approach show cases the use of recycled products
where paths, borders and supports feature a
variety of materials creating a rustic aethetic.
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The difference between this garden and the others visited is clear, here plants are chosen as much
for an educational value as for an aesthetic. Conversely the other gardens visited were purely
ornamental with the aesthetic appeal of plants taking highest priority. A good example of this was a
large display of the banana harvesting process, which also highlighted the improved conditions for
farmers in fair trade supported communities. Thus plants and horticulture are utilised as a means to
educate the public on the efficacy of fair trade in improving welfare for farmers and their associated
An interesting feature of all three biomes was the generous use of sculptures and props throughout
the planting. Testament to this creative thread was an enormous bee sculpture in the Outdoor
Biome, bamboo scaffolding in the Rainforest Biome, and a sculpture of Dionysus, Greek God of the
vines placed amongst the vines in the Mediterranean Biome. In the Rainforest Biome there were
also buildings to show the way people live in these regions and the type of garden they may have this is interesting to visitors as it allows a comparison to the way we garden in the UK. All
structures were well-made and maintained, and had been carefully placed. Despite some not being
of a horticultural nature, they tied in with the ethos of sustainability and recycling, making key
areas of the planting more memorable.
The Dionysus sculpture amongst the vines in the Mediterranean
Biome (left) and the giant bee of the outdoor biome.
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One of the ways Eden educates its visitors is through interpretation. Compared to the uniformity of
Wisley’s interpretation, at Eden things are more dynamic. Rather than keeping to a standard design,
interpretation boards are themed to the different biomes and displays, often using different textures,
materials and sometimes having a 3D aspect to draw attention. For some, Eden’s varying signage
may seem messy and haphazard, making the place feel disjointed, but for others the variation adds
to the educational quality and enhances interest.
Directional interpretation within the biomes was interwoven with a story, but also helped channel a
one way system, something that could be used at Wisley during the Butterfly Event. Pictorial
interpretation also aids the experience of multi-lingual audiences, allowing key phrases to be
understood not just by those who can speak English, but also by those that can’t read, including
young children.
An evident feature of the Eden project was the relatively large number of interpretation boards and
other signs integrated within the planted areas. There were significantly more than at Wisley,
providing information such as plant uses, conservation issues and natural habitats. This enables
Eden to meet its educational objective, and fulfill most visitors’ expectation to learn about plants
during their visit. This quantity of signage would not perhaps work so well at a public garden such
as Wisley, where education is a relatively minor aspect and may detract from the visual aesthetic at
Signage at Eden could be described as an artistic and
eclectic mix. This non uniform approach is both visually
appealing and informative. A display of Calendula (left)
describes its medicinal uses while also displaying packaging
of it in product form. The more formal signage for the
Trachymene coerulea (above)remains informative and
accessible to a wide audience.
Unlike Wisley, Eden uses both common and Latin names for plants. This highlights that it is a
visitor attraction rather than a horticultural garden. That said, the use of common names can often
make the public feel more comfortable, as most are not familiar with Latin, and therefore may
enable them to take more from the experience.
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Final comments
Eden is working with science to look at the possible future impact of climate change and the ways
in which we can adapt; this is one of the points made on the website. During our visit we saw no
real evidence of this although a sign near the entry states “Eden works on projects exploring how
we can adapt to new ways of living in the 21st century, showing what can be achieved when people
work together and with nature”. From our experience of this visit they are certainly making inroads
into demonstrating this ideal.
View from inside the ‘jungle hut’ in the Rainforest Biome
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The Lost Gardens of Heligan
As the name romantically suggests the gardens at Heligan are steeped in history. The site itself has
been in the Tremayne family since 1200, and the gardens evolved from 1766 until 1914, when the
First World War turned attentions elsewhere. It wasn’t until much later (1990) that the gardens were
‘rediscovered’. Since then the gardens have gone from strength to strength and Heligan is now
easily one of the most famous gardens of recent times in the UK, visited by thousands every year.
Head Gardener Mike Friend says himself that visitor comments are all very similar, that it is not
revered in the usual sense as a public garden for its plant collections or stunning horticultural
displays. Instead the gardens maintains a romantic sense of discovery of a lost world-as you wander
the estate one can imagine the potential for the wildness to reclaim the landscape, that lostness still
within arms reach.
The iconic mud maiden of Heligan depicts well the fariytale feeling of a lost world where the boundary between
nature and gardening is blurred, something that is inherent to the ethos of Heligan.
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Excellence in horticulture
The Lost gardens of Heligan have developed a reputation
for a high standard of horticulture achieved using mainly
historic methods of cultivation. However there has been
an expansion of policy in the last 5 years toward making
more out of the wider estate, particularly focusing on
preserving the wildlife which inhabits the garden and
educating the public about it. Broadly speaking the
gardens can be divided into two focuses of management
consisting of a smaller intensive area of high labour input
and a more extensively managed wider area. The Jungle
Valley provides perhaps the most impressionistic of the
latter where tree ferns, monkey puzzle trees, bamboo’s
and giant Gunnera surround flowing waterfalls and pools.
The more intensively managed part of the gardens are
known as The Productive Gardens an area covering just
under 2 acres. Here within the restored walled gardens,
heritage fruit and vegetable varieties (pre-1910) are
grown all year round to produce crops for use in the
restaurant – as they would have been in the 1800s for the
Tremayne family’s home. Mostly traditional methods are
used in here – soil is dug by hand and locally harvested
seaweed is used as a mulch and soil conditioner in
winter. Chemical use is avoided where possible & neat
box hedges are clipped by hand. They also have the only
working Pineapple pit in the country a fascinating
invention, where heat is essentially provided by
decomposing horse manure.
The descent into the jungle surrounded by
impossibly large tree ferns (Dicksonia
antarctica). Found throughout Cornwall
these magnificent specimens were originally
brought over from Australia as boat ballasts,
discarded specimens began to sprout new
fronds on the quayside where they no doubt
caught the attentions of keen gardeners.
Above a pink pineapple in the only
operational pineapple pit to be found in the
country, it works! At left the walled garden
where cut flowers are grown among tightly
clipped (by hand) box hedges.
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Wildlife and Education
The most notable feature of Heligan’s commitment to making the wildlife of the gardens and estate
accessible to the public is their new bird-hide/wildlife hut which has been positioned in an area of
pasture affording viewing of numerous bird species in the fields and skies. The hut has been rigged
up with wildlife camera’s which display barn owl roosts and various other areas of intense wildlife
activity which are not usually seen by the public. The wildlife cameras have allowed the staff at
Heligan to monitor various species, notably the Barn owls, and take steps to provide better habitats
for the wildlife to develop.
The display of Skeps traditionally used in beekeeping offers a reference to the past, and the way
wildlife is a part of gardening historically. The old Skeps are displayed in their original alcoves in
the back South wall of the productive gardens. Beekeepers no longer encourage the use of Skeps as
more modern hives reduce the risk of both the invasion by the parasitic Varoa mite and colony
collapse disorder which afflict many colonies across the country. There is a good use of
interpretation boards to explain the display and why the Skeps are no longer used, so that the public
can understand the need for bees and their current ecological situation.
Other ways the education of the garden is promoted is through school visits and tours from the
gardeners. The garden also takes on people wishing to carry out work experience. In the future the
head gardener explained how they would like to offer educational apprenticeships, however they
cannot offer this currently with staff shortages and would like to set the scheme up when it will be
the most beneficial for the apprentice.
Information and Interpretation
An example of the in depth story styled signage
found at Heligan, very interesting, but perhaps
not as accessible as it could be.
The signs in the garden provided interesting
information about the gardens maintenance and
restoration and compared to Wisley’s Information and
Interpretation, are more detailed. While the stories are
relevant to the experience, they can detract as the
signage is small and whilst taking time to read it one
often finds oneself blocking a pathway. Furthermore,
such lengthy text is not accessible to those who cannot
read or do not have a good grasp of English. A balance
is required to maintain the unobtrusiveness of these
signs on the garden landscape whilst maintaing
accessibility, something like a headset story might be
an option.
In addition few of the plants were labelled, from a
horticulturalists perspective this was disappointing. Predominantly the cultivars used in the garden
were from the pre-1930’s. Perhaps they are not fulfilling the potential of using the older varieties if
these plants are not acknowledged clearly for the visitors to discover.
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Final Thoughts
The incredible restoration of The Lost Garden’s of Heligan provides a really interesting and useful
educational resource, immersing the visitor with the gardens past. The garden could achieve more
towards it education goals through traineeships, however it is positive that they are aware of this
and want to provide traineeships in the future. In addition some attention to labelling details could
be looked at to improve visitor experience. However, overall one comes away from visiting The lost
Gardens of Heligan with a sense of being filled up: with ideas, enthusiasm and a touch of mystery.
Cordyline australis reflections on the lily pond in the Italian Garden
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The Garden House
The Garden House grounds were developed into the garden they are today in the 1940s, when
Lionel and Katherine Fortescue bought the 1830s Georgian mansion. An important consideration in
buying the property was the potential for growing plants, so Lionel sent soil samples for analysis,
which confirmed a shaley soil that was fertile and acidic. This offered the desired possibility of
growing the widest range of plants and especially Rhododendron’s that were the Fortescues’
favourite. In 1961 the Fortescues’ founded the charitable Fortescue Garden Trust with the vision of
the continuing evolution of their garden for the future education and enjoyment of visitors.
Following their deaths in the early 1980s, the grounds passed into the ownership of the trust, which
continues to administer the property to the present day.
The next phase in the gardens history came with the work of Keith Wiley (head gardener from 1978
to 2003) and his style of gardening termed New Naturalism. The ground was sculpted to diversify
the landscape and then trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs were combined to appear as though they
had arrived as seedlings. In 2003 Matt Bishop, an ex Wisley Trainee, was appointed head gardener,
bringing his definitive Galanthus research and expertise of bulbs and woodland plants to add to the
developing masterpiece. Matt’s gardening is strongly influenced by regular trips to see plants in
their natural wild state, which continued the natural theme set by Keith. Thus one of the main aims
of the gardens is fulfilled: a respect for the legacies of predecessors whilst ensuring that the garden
itself remains a crucible of new ideas and plants.
A view from the tower in the walled garden towards the Georgian mansion.
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The Layout
The garden’s layout can be divided broadly into two areas in terms of style and evocation: an older
hewn, more formal area and a more loosely sewn, wilder area. The older part of the garden is found
below the Wisteria clad Georgian mansion, within which, it is worth noting, lies a very inviting tea
rooms complete with large selection of homemade cakes. An impressive 13th century wall (remains
of a monastery which previously occupied the site) encircles the more formal part of the garden.
Here a series of rooms can be found amidst rounded hedges and topiary shaped balls. A wealth of
colour adorns the borders in a frothy country garden type way, spilling over paths and blurring the
edges all the while being restrained in the corners and seams by stone walls, paving and tightly
clipped privet hedges.
The ‘magic circle’ made of locally source granite offers secluded calm above the Acer glade (left). Backlit
poppies catch the sun in their silken petals in the ‘South African Garden’ (right).
Across the service road, which seems to create a boundary between these two areas, a more wild
planting system can be found. The first path from the road leads through an area referred to as the
South African garden where an irresistible quilt of silken poppies was to be found. Back lit by the
sun, poppies of all colours danced wantonly among tussock grasses, white Agapanthus and pale
pink Dierama’s. From here paths lead through a cottage garden (more rustic than most which I have
come across) containing a heady mix of perennials at different stages of grace. Next along the
garden path a more aptly named (though not well labelled) wildflower meadow.
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Up toward the top corner a woodland scene takes over, with an Acer glade and birch dappled light
descending a calm upon the circle of standing stones referred to as the Magic Circle (actually
installed in 1994, using local granite). A peace descends from here down through a tiny stream, and
one finds time to sit and absorb the beauty and fullness of depth to be found in this comparatively
small garden-it is indeed enchanting, full of places where one wants to linger and while the time
Information and Interpretation
The ideals and principals behind the garden layout, with plants in groups of habitat, is a fantastic
idea and a useful tool for professionals. However it may have been over looked, and in some cases
missed altogether by the untrained eye. Walking around the garden you get a sense that the plants
are arranged in a particular style but this is not effectively explained by signage, and the map (apart
from offering orientation) does not always offer clarification.
A favourite area of the garden is the wild flower meadow, and walking through it one can see why
this is. With borrowed views of the surrounding Devon countryside and a deep cloudless blue sky
to compliment the purples, pinks, blues and reds, a near perfect picture is complete. Perhaps signage
describing meadow species and the way it has been created would detract from the overall aesthetic.
Compared to the other gardens visited there was an obvious lack of explantion and interpertation of
the beds and borders. In many ways this may be welcomed as too much information can take away
from the natural beauty of the plants. However it would seem in a garden with areas named as
‘South African Garden’ that there would be a small amount of interpration to explain just what you
are looking at. Perhaps a perfect opportunity missed to educate the public further on horticultural
practices. In addition taking inspiration from the interpertation seen at Eden, information doesn’t
necessarily need to be labels everywhere and large blocks of text. There are many innovative ways
to approach signage, ensuring it is in-keeping with the ethos of the garden itself.
Final Comments
The Garden House really stood out as being a different entity to the two other gardens visited, much
smaller and more homely feeling, which could perhaps be attributed to the near absence of signage.
Despite this it is indeed a garden to be admired, with so many different atmospheres and aspects
being created within a relatively small area. As one of the Wisley trainee’s said “this was an
amazing garden to spend an afternoon walking around and soaking up the very private experience
you take away from a place like this”.
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Contributors to this report:
The trip attendees from left: Ashleigh Davies, Nadine Stotten, Samantha Spendlove, Stuart Thom, Anna Chaffey,
Tom Upton, Rohanna Heyes, Natalie Foley, Katrina Wilson, Natalie May and Emily Smith
Report Compiler and Editor: Rohanna Heyes
Sub-editor: Barnaby Millard
With Contributions from the following groups:
The Eden Project: Stuart Thom, Nadine Stotten, Emily Smith and Samantha Spendlove
The Lost Gardens of Heligan: Natalie Foley, Tom Upton, Anna Chaffey
The Garden House: Natalie May, Rohanna Heyes, Katrina Wilson