Postcard from Cornwall 1: RHS Rosemoor

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Visiting gardens these days with both my adult sons is like viewing the garden with a comedy soundtrack.  Their conversation, completely un-horticultural, is far-reaching and having not seen much in recent months is non-stop.  They also both have a quirky sense of humour so it isn’t unusual to hear  out-takes of Hot Fuzz or be aware that one of them is doing a moon-walk behind you.  It is delightful to have their company and these days out always leave me with happy memories but aren’t necessarily good for taking in horticultural information!

This week we are on holiday in the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall.  We are staying in a beautiful little self-catering cottage which used to be a corn store, it’s all incredibly pretty.  We have few plans apart from spending time together, relaxing, sleeping and eating.  However, being a natural early bird and with two sons in their early 20s I am up long before them so have my trustee laptop with me to entertain.

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Anyway back to the theme of the post, on the way down to Cornwall we took a biggish detour to RHS Rosemoor.  I have only visited RHS Wisley  before and that was a very quick visit so this was my first proper visit to an RHS garden and I have to say I was impressed.  I also think I preferred it to Wisley  as Rosemoor isn’t on such a grand scale.

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We started with lunch on the alpine terrace.  The terrace has dry stone walls around  it planted with alpines of all sorts including the less popular coniferous varieties and it looked stunning.  Adjacent was an alpine house which was positively groaning under the flowers on display.  I suspect that the display is refreshed regularly with whatever is in flower at the moment as it was strange that absolutely everything was in flower.  There was a predominance of Lewisias which was fascinating as I haven’t really seen these plants enmasse before and the variety was impressive, not just in flower colour but in structure and form.  I did wonder whether my fascination with the alpines would have been so marked if I had visited a year ago before I became involved with the Alpine Plant Society.   Since joining, for the seed distribution scheme, I have discovered  a whole new range of plants which are quite fascinating and broadened my horticultural knowledge.

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From here we looked briefly at the rose gardens.  I’m  not a fan of rose gardens per se and prefer to see roses growing amongst other plants but also the roses weren’t quite in flower.  I liked the Cottage Garden but I suppose that goes without saying.  Its my default position and my  original interest in gardening and what I always come back to.  However, again it was the alpine planting  on the dry stone wall around the garden which really captured my interest.

The boys, or should I say men, were particularly taken with the Hot Garden where the only real flowers were purple alliums and bright orange geums. The borders were full of other herbaceous plants which will provide the heat in coming months but they really liked this simple and limited combination and the way the yellow dwarf bamboo picked up the yellow leaves of a near by free and contrasted with the geum.

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From the more formal areas we made our way  through the Rock Gully which was a hit with all of us.  I love Primulas and there were plenty of these along with wonderful ferns, another growing interest, trilliums, tree peonies, bamboo and Arisaema.  Although I heard one lady call them pitcher plants saying how they would go to Chelsea next year to find a supplier – I had to be restrained from putting her straight!!  Whilst the Cottage Garden is my default preference I have noticed that I really do like plantings alongside streams particularly when they are running  down a slope.  I just need to move somewhere with a stream so I can recreate it.  I think it was the scale of the bamboos and the rocks that was impressive giving a sense of exploration and wonder.

Interestingly we all decided that the Mediterranean Garden wasn’t for us.  I have found this before that whilst I like the odd rosemary, Cistus, lavender; a garden exclusively of Mediterranean plants, for me, is quite dull.  The plants tend to be glaucous or grey with smallish leaves and I think a good visual garden needs more contrasts and variety to make it interesting.  I did however like the Southern Hemisphere slope despite it being far too early in the season but then again I have an emerging fascinating with plants from South Africa and South America and feel frustrated at my lack of greenhouse  space.  My youngest didn’t like this area at all, he is a bit of a traditionalist at heart I feel.

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It was interesting watching him in the garden.  My sons have been dragged round gardens since they were little but in recent years have been less keen, particularly my youngest.  However, since he started studying design and we started visiting The Garden House whenever I visit him at University he has started to show a new interest but it is a different interest to mine.  He is currently obsessed with blue and takes endless photographs of blue flowers.  Mainly irises as he has always liked them but also meconopsis poppies, Aquilegia and Corydalis.  He says that he needs to stand out from other design students who seem to present their work mainly in black, white and red and so he is always looking for different shades.  He uses his flower pictures to identify particular shades which he can then copy  with his clever software on to his designs.  Saying all that he did try to persuade me that he could grow an iris in his student house so I think there are horticultural genes there somewhere.

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No visit to a garden would  be complete without tea and cake and the Wisteria Tea Room does a wonderful cream tea which of course it would have been rude not to partake off.  I think I could  have stayed there for longer sitting under the wisteria surrounded by ferns and tree peonies.

My youngest commented that he preferred The Garden  House.  Initially he said it was because there was more variety of planting.  The plantsman in me reacted quite strongly to this comment.  No – Rosemoor had far more variety,  range and better quality of planting!!  We concluded that he preferred The Garden House as it was, to him, more of a personal garden whereas Rosemoor has an educational mission and therefore there are lots of labels and signage and tarmaced paths.  I found this very interesting.  In the past I have commented that I often find ‘public’ gardens such as those managed by the National Trust soul-less and that I preferred gardens which were obviously more personal.  However, I found that I couldn’t apply this to Rosemoor.

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Yes  it didn’t have the intimate, quirky and personal nature of a garden that opens a few days a year but I found it inspiring.  It spoke to the wannabe plantsmen in me. I saw how different plants, such as alpines, succulents and ferns, could be displayed to their best advantage.  To me there were areas which were quite personal, someone behind them has a flare, a vision, a talent for creating wonderful combinations.  So Rosemoor challenged some of my preconceptions, it gave me ideas to take home and it left me hungry to find out more about plants that were new to me.

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline says:

    So pleased you enjoyed Rosemoor, it is our “local” garden and we can be there in just over an hour when the mood takes us. It was lovely walking with you and seeing it through your eyes this time. I too love the streamside planting, lots of lovely plants in the shade, lots of inspiration for the woodland and bog gardens here. I’m sure there is a gardening gene lurking in your sons, it will just take time, probably when they have a garden of their own to tend, then suddenly they will be asking you for lots of advice, nice that you can share these visits with them. Enjoy the rest of your holiday.

  2. I’ve only had one visit to Rosemoor and the Cornwall area. I remember the veg garden most distinctly, but your photos help bring it all back. If it is within distance and you have a chance, visit Bosvigo Gardens in Truro. It is my favorite of all time.

  3. helenatfoxgloves says:

    Thank you for bringing the lovely weather with you!! Hope it lasts the week. Here are the details of a garden/nursery near where you are staying which I think you might like;
    Roseland House Garden and Nursery
    Chacewater
    TR4 8QB

    Tel no 01872 560451

    Have a lovely holiday!!

  4. Yvonne Ryan says:

    The alpines are soooooo pretty! Another garden on my ‘bucket list’ if I ever win lotto!

  5. Annette says:

    Absolutely delightful, thanks for sharing. Haven’t made it to Rosemoor yet but in all RHS gardens I’m usually drawn to the alpine house with its little treasures…which is strange as I’m usually not an alpine person (in my own garden).

  6. That wisteria tea room is stunning with the pale yellow and purple wisteria.

  7. kininvie says:

    Ah, I’d always thought of ‘pitcher plants’ too. Can you enlighten me? I bought one of them last year in a fit of madness, and it survived, so I have just bought another. I know absolutely nothing about insectivores – but I do notice that they feed well in my greenhouse. A slug ate out the flower bud of the one I got last year, and in revenge I fed it to the plant. It has now, six months later, entirely digested the slug…I’m mightily impressed.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      I think pitcher plants are sarracina not arisema but maybe I am wrong. I dont think ariseama are carnivorous.

  8. Thanks for the tour! We know now that we will not get to Rosemoor or Cornwall when we get to the UK in September, but perhaps we will get to return some day. I would have liked the hot purple/orange garden as well, and cottage gardens are also my default preference. How great that your boys are garden enthusiasts. Mine see my gardening as a harmless and somewhat eccentric obsession. They can appreciate a beautiful garden but it is not what they themselves would do. They are both aspiring writers (a rather tough career these days). For hobbies, the older one cooks and travels, the younger one likes to make beer, and both do a lot of reading for pleasure.

  9. Janneke says:

    So delightful to see Rosemoor and The Garden House again. We visited these garden 2 years ago when were on holidays in Dartmoor. These are really sweet garden memories. Have a nice time in Cornwall.

  10. Cathy says:

    I have really enjoyed the tour and your musings, Helen, and look forward to sharing the rest of your holiday with you!

  11. I’ve still never been to Rosemoor, so I enjoyed seeing it through your eyes. I know what you mean about some mediterranean planting schemes, and who wouldn’t want a stream. It may not have the charm of The Garden House but I think any keen gardener would get a lot out of seeing so many different plants grown in appropriate conditions. Though I hate plant labels, and long for the day when all you need is a clever app to tell you what you are looking at!

  12. Jean says:

    I found this post delightful. It wasn’t just the beautiful flowers and your description of the garden, but the sense of getting to know your children as adults.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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