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John Dyer paints the Lost Gardens of Heligan

  • 5 min read

John Dyer painting the Lost Gardens of Heligan

The Lost Gardens of Heligan is a jewel in the crown of Cornwall's many gardens. It is a stunning mix of traditional and modern planting which teams with history and is a visual delight. The name of the gardens is derived from the Cornish word 'helygen' meaning 'willow tree' garden. Discover the history of the Lost Gardens of Heligan alongside the art of Cornish artist John Dyer.

The question is - How does a garden become lost?

The Lost Gardens of Heligan have a remarkable story, with a long and varied history. Originally created in the 18th century by the Tremayne family, it was one of the most ambitious gardens in England, complete with exotic plants from all over the globe. The estate was abandoned for many years, until its rediscovery in 1990.

Above: Vintage Style Travel Art Poster Print. The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Love Jungle Garden by Cornish Artist John Dyer

The History of Heligan Gardens

The House

For over four centuries, Heligan House, situated near the cornish town of St Austell, was the home of the Tremayne family.The Arundell family originally constructed a manor house on the Heligan estate in its early days, in around 1200. Sampson Tremayne purchased it along with its land in 1596. It remained in the hands of the extended Tremayne family until it was converted into flats in the 1960s.

Original Garden design

In the late 18th century, Reverend Henry Hawkins Tremayne began constructing the exquisite gardens surrounding his home. He asked Thomas Gray to create a garden plan around 1780 - this original plan helped a great deal when it came to the garden's eventual restoration. He planted trees along the border to improve the site's privacy, shelter, and beauty.

Inspired by the exotic plant discoveries abroad, John Tremayne constructed a melon yard, pineapple pit and walled flower gardens on his estate. He also planted numerous tropical plants throughout these diverse gardens and cultivated the Northern Garden and Rose bed area. This period marked an exciting time of exploration in botany for wealthy families like the Tremyanes.

Subsequent generations of the family constructed a wild area, dubbed The Jungle garden, where giant tree ferns and other tropical plants flourished. This exuberant garden offered stunning views of Mevagissey's fishing port below.

The Effect of the First World War on Heligan

By 1900, the sprawling gardens were an awe-inspiring sight, comprised of twenty gardeners. Sadly, when World War One began, most of the gardeners had to leave for battle, causing decimation in the woodlands and leaving the gardens virtually unattended. Only 4 out of the original 13 young gardeners who went off to fight, returned from the war.

After the war, the final direct descendant of the family, Jack Tremayne constructed a lavish Italian garden before departing for Italy himself in 1923 and leasing out the house and garden.

Over time, the garden's monkey puzzles, tree ferns and magnolias were left to their own devices. Soon enough, the Georgian Ride, Mushroom House and Grotto that had been established with so much care and the rest of these beautiful gardens fell into neglect as thorns, brambles, and rhododendrons began taking over. A veil of decay quickly swallowed up the gardens as they remained unattended for too long.

The Discovery of the Lost Gardens

Unexpectedly, Sir Tim Smit (who later co-founded the Eden Project where John Dyer is the artist in residence for the Eden Project) stumbled upon the long-forgotten Lost Gardens of Heligan during a chance encounter with John Willis, a Tremayne descendant who had just inherited the land. Originally they were looking at setting up a small, rare breeds farm on the land. After cutting through layers of brambles and foliage, they were astonished to find exotic plants from across the globe flourishing in the overgrown gardens and an abundance of neglected buildings, greenhouses, and pathways. The Gardens of Heligan were lost no more!

It was decided that a big restoration project should take place, almost in memory of the gardeners who had never returned from the war to continue looking after this incredible garden.

Europe's Largest Garden Restoration

The Victorian Garden

The Tremayne family's kitchen gardens were lovingly nurtured and provided nearly every need for both themselves and their guests. Nowadays, more than 300 species of mostly heritage fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs are carefully cared for in this beautiful landscape. The produce is used in the Heligan kitchen to provide food for the restaurant.

Above: Vintage Style Travel Art Poster Print. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Rows of People and Plants. Cornish Artist John Dyer

The Victorian Greenhouse

The reconstructed victorian greenhouse is home to exotic fruits that thrive in this unique construction's heat. Melons, citrus fruits, bananas, grapes, apricots and peaches all grow here.

Above: Vintage Style Travel Art Poster Print. The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Lemons in the Greenhouse. Cornish Artist John Dyer

The Pleasure Grounds

The Pleasure Grounds of Heligan, once used to convey both delight and affluence, boast a unique range of romantic structures, exceptional features and grand plantings. Having been constructed over 200 years ago by generations of the Tremayne family, these pathways allow us to navigate through various themed gardens and soak in its amazing atmosphere and history.

Winding paths lead you through various gardens including the Italian Garden, Sundial Garden, Northern Summerhouse, Crystal Grotto and the New Zealand garden.

Italian Gardens

Back in 1906, Jack Tremayne created a quiet and inconspicuous garden as his personal getaway - built to resemble a garden from the country of Italy that he held so dear. The reconstructed Italian Garden has a definite Mediterranean feel with a calm atmosphere.

Above: Vintage Style Travel Art Poster Print. The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Italian Garden by Cornish Artist John Dyer

The Jungle Garden

The Jungle is situated within a deep-sided valley, forming its own microclimate five degrees warmer than the Northern Gardens. This garden is full of lush and exotic vegetation, which would have originally been transported back to the UK from around the globe by Victorian plant hunters and collectors.

A raised boardwalk winds its way around four ponds filled with giant rhubarb stalks, banana plantations, and majestic rows of palms in a tropical paradise.

Above: Vintage Style Travel Art Poster Print. The Lost Gardens of Heligan Jungle Garden Cornwall by Cornish Artist John Dyer

Above: Vintage Style Travel Art Poster Print. The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Night Jungle Garden by Cornish Artist John Dyer

This is John's version of a Heligan Night Garden experience, with the starry dark sky creating a magical atmosphere in the jungle.

Heligan is a place of fun and adventure with its winding woodland walk, Mud Maid, Giant's Head, Burma rope bridge and jungle area. John's images all depict a great day out in Heligan, where children and all the family can explore and immerse themselves in nature.

Discover the perfect garden art for your home or interior

If you have enjoyed discovering Cornish art and paintings of gardens do take a look at our 'Paintings of Gardens' gallery that includes new original paintings, art prints and historical art featuring garden paintings. You can also view and buy John Dyer prints of Heligan online.

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