Postcard from Cornwall 2: Trebah


Trebah is one of those archetypal Cornish grand gardens which start up high on a headland and work their way down through large plantings to an estuary.  I have to say that having visited Heligan a number of times and Coleton Fishacre my enthusiasm wasn’t that high.  Don’t get me wrong they are very nice but it gets a little repetitive plus Trebah’s website was very family friendly with zip wires and adventure playgrounds for children etc. Hmm.


Anyway, the garden was open on Sunday so we thought we would have a look-see and I have to say I am glad we did.  Trebah has its own character and I suppose I should have realised this.  After all there are lots of cottage style gardens, wildlife gardens etc and they all have their own personality – well almost.  We were initially impressed with the fact that our tickets were valid for the whole week which seems an excellent deal especially is you have young children on holiday and want somewhere for them to run around and let off steam.

At the top end of the garden around the house and entrance there was a fascinating collection of succulent plants: Aeoniums, Echeveria, Agave, Aloe.  These are already becoming a theme to our holiday with me buying one or two more at each place we visit.


We decided to start on the right hand side and explore the Koi Pool, Cascade and Water Garden.  You are very quickly walking along path surrounded by rhododendrons and azaleas amongst Chusan palms, some of them champion trees being the tallest in the UK, all under planted with wild foxgloves, bluebells, wild  garlic  and champion.  Interestingly the smell from the wild garlic was quite strong walking in one direction but completely over-powered by the azaleas when you walked back the other way.  This is a garden where you are looking at the views, looking out across the valley or looking up into the branches above.  It isn’t a garden for looking at neat and dainty plantings.  That is until you come round to the Cascade.

Following on from yesterday’s visit to RHS Rosemoor I have to say I am a sucker for a cascade when it is planted with ferns and primula pulverulenta.  The cascade in places was very like a rill and even my eldest started to conjecture that as we already had the slope would it really be that hard for us to have a cascade in the garden – umm yes! I know some people are sniffy about the yellow primula, I think they have a habit of spreading, but in this setting they really looked quite breathtaking and were certainly stealing the show.


After lunch, we explored the left hand side of the garden taking the Beach Path downwards.  Again you are looking at the views and vistas, looking up at the Azaleas you were walking amongst in the morning and admiring the camellias which were still in flower.  Unlike some of the other gardens of this ilk, Trebah is a very gentle walk down, and up.  On the way down you encounter a vast glad of bamboo which amusing has been labelled Bamboozle on the map.  We had seen vast bamboos at Rosemoor but some of the specimens here made Rosemoors look like dwarfs.  The individual canes were the diameter of your average downpipes and they really didn’t feel like they were a plant having a strange plasticy quality about them.  This promoted a stupid conversation about the possibility of my son having bamboo guttering on his workshop.

You then pass past Gunnera Passage (hmm!) and I have to say that sadly this really cured my fascination with Gunnera.  There were so many of them and in the bright sunshine with their weird flower heads and unfurling leaves they were quite sinister and well ugly.


Finally you come to the last pond with a pretty bridge over it and find yourself at the beach.  I was fascinated to learn that during World War II the 29th US Infantry Division was based at Trebah and 7,500 men embarked for the D-Day landings from the beach.  I found it very hard to imagine the tanks and military paraphernalia amongst the beautiful surroundings but had to remind myself that was a different time and everything would have been different.  We thought  it very fitting that there was a memorial to the men, many who died in the landings, by the beach.


Trebah has a fascinating history.  It was created in 1838 by Charles Fox, a Quaker scientist and president of the Royal Geographical Society of Cornwall.  His family stayed at Trebah for three generations.  In the 1960s the property was owned by Sir Donald Healey designer of the Austin Healey.  Finally the property was bought by the Hibberts in 1981 and opened to the public  in 1987 before being donated to the Trebah Garden Trust.

For me aside from the amazing bamboos and the picturesque primulas the best bit was sitting on the beach watching boats drifting past.  We talked and reminisced about past holidays, collected shells and were entertained by toddlers and dogs discovering the joys of the sea-shore.


Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

17 thoughts on “Postcard from Cornwall 2: Trebah”

  1. We went to Porthcurno last December to the Telegraph Museum and were surprised to find – like you – how big a role Cornwall had played in the time leading up to D-Day. Another surprise was how such a sleepy place like Porthcurno was (and still is to a great extent) a world leader in telecommunications.

    It sounds like your ‘table of delights’ will be positively groaning when you get home!

  2. Hi Helen, I’ve been to Trebah many years ago and actually spent the night there (still possible?). I thought the location was really stunning and I still remember standing underneath the Gunnera and feeling very small…unlike you I still dream about it and hope to have one myself some day 😉

  3. When we visited Cornwall, Trebah was my husband’s favorite garden. We didn’t get to see the primulas but the hydrangeas were amazing…around the little bridge was a valley of blue flowers. Thanks for sharing your vacation. I’m packing now for a trip and you have whetted my appetite for adventure.

  4. Trebah is such a lovely place. As you say, the children’s area is a bit off putting if you don’t have youngsters, but once past and into the garden it is so peaceful and inspiring. I love all the yellow primulas, hopefully one day my bog garden will look similar! I think you went at the best time of year for Cornish gardens, they are all wonderful!

  5. Hi Helen! I found your blog through the sewalong on didyoumakethat. I love your blog as I also love flowers and pretty landscapes. I don’t know very much about gardens, but want to learn. I’ll be following along and love your beautiful pictures!

  6. Thanks for this visit too – and just to say that it is not difficult to create a natural looking stream in your garden, so don’t give up on the idea!

  7. Thanks for the tour. Yet another garden to put on our list of lifetime possibilities. Love that mass of purple azalea (?). I must say I feel cured of any interest in Gunnera and I don’t even know what they are!

  8. Fantastic! Thanks for the tour. I am still fascinated with Gunnera–particularly because it’s too humid here for them to thrive–but perhaps one day a visit to Trebah will cure me as well.

  9. I am really enjoying reading about your trip. Years ago I lived a mile or two from Rosemoor and never visited once. What a wasted opportunity! How I wish I’d taken an interest in gardening earlier in my life. I’m been planning a trip to Devon and Cornwall, probably next year, to catch up with old friends and to visit a long list of gardens, so it’s lovely to read your descriptions and thoughts & get some more ideas for my trip.

  10. Trebah is one of my favourite Cornish gardens, in large part because of the beach at the end, and I love the bamboo groves and enormous gunneras. I am glad you enjoyed it there, I’ve never seen the azaleas etc. as I have always been later in the year.

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