Tim EntwisleGirl & boy hydrangea at Trebah Garden

Trebah Garden is in the far west corner of Cornwall, half an hour or so by hedge-row lined roads from Falmouth (i.e. a couple of miles). ‘Trebah’ means house by the bay and indeed the family home looks over the garden down to a gorgeous bay.

Hydrangea's at Trebah Garden

Hydrangea’s at Trebah Garden

Thanks to Ray Townsend (Woody Collections and Sward Manager at Kew, Trustee of Trebah Garden and no slouch with bamboos) and Darren Dickey (Head Gardener at Trebah Garden), Lynda and I had an expertly guided tour.

Ray Townsend, Lynda & Darren Dickey under towering Gunnera

Charles Fox created the garden in 1838, at this location first mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Since then (1838 rather than 1086) the property changed hands a number of times until Tony and Eira Hibbert bought it in 1981, opening it to the public in 1987. In 1990 the house and garden were transferred to the Trebah Garden Trust who have added a visitor centre and a very fine cafe.

Trebah

Trebah

The setting – a deep protected valley down to a sheltered beach – and the collection of hundred-year-old rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias, plus a smattering of plants from warmer climes, make Trebah Garden quite different to other grand gardens in England.

Gunnera manicata

Gunnera manicata

The signature plants for many visitors though are the hydrangeas and giant gunneras filling the lower valley. Gunnera manicata has a bad name these days as a weed in Cornwall (and elsewhere) but here in Trebah Gardens it reaches such spectacular size and extent it’s hard not to be impressed, and to forgive its virulence.

Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangea macrophylla

 I’m not aware of Hydrangea macrophylla having any invasive tendencies but it certainly flourishes beside the stream here in Trebah Gardens, at least while the gunnera is kept under control upstream.

Beautiful big-leaf Hydrangea flowers

Beautiful big-leaf Hydrangea flowers

Given my persuasive argument about the colour of Big-leaf Hydrangea flowers depending on the amount of aluminium in the soil, and usually linked to acidity, how do they get pink and blue flowered plants growing next to each other?

I got two different answers from our guides: either the pink flowered individuals were grown in specially prepared compost (and they will convert to blue as they settle into their garden position) or there are genetic strains that remain pink or blue no matter what the soil chemistry. I prefer the first answer but will need to visit again in a few years and check out the distribution of colours in this picture (assuming Darren doesn’t replace them first…).

Bamboo at Trebah Garden

Bamboo at Trebah Garden

If Ray has his way Trebah Garden will also be known for its bamboos. It has plenty of different species (39), and a fledgling ‘bamboozle’ (a maze of paths through bamboos), but Darren and Ray want to lift the bamboo experience to another level with clever plantings and improved presentation. You can already see bamboos (Phyllostachys edulis) with thicker canes here than anywhere else in the UK.

Bamboo Ray Townsend & Darren Dickey

Bamboo Ray Townsend & Darren Dickey

Giverny inspired bridge at Trebah Garden

Giverny inspired bridge at Trebah Garden

And there is plenty more, such as this Giverny inspired bridge and one gunnera that won’t invade Cornwall.

A gunnera that won't invade Cornwall!

A gunnera that won’t invade Cornwall!

Images: They don’t do the garden justice!

From Talking Plants

Postscript: Featured on the Highgrove Gardens website
“Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Pia’ …has a dwarf habit growing to 70cm in height and spread, keeping a good bright pink flower colour no matter what the soil type.” The forms at Trebah were not dwarf, but this does support the alternative explanation, where some varieties do flower pink no matter what!

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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

4 thoughts on “Girl & boy hydrangea at Trebah Garden

  1. AliCat on said:

    As a lover of architectural plants, of course I have tried to grow Gunnera manicata – with no success. It is a plant that I have always loved and would really like to be able to grow. What is the average annual rainfall in this spot? The lushness in the photos suggests that it must be high, with a high humidity as well. It would now be a question of finding such a plant in Australia, because so many of the more unusual plants seem to have disappeared from circulation.
    Alison

  2. Hi Alison,
    I’m pretty sure Gunnera manicata grows at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah (I’m only 14 months off leaving Sydney’s botanic gardens yet can’t quite remember!). But yes it needs plenty of moisture. It grows well at Kew Gardens in London, but in Cornwall (warm and wet cf. London) it grows into the massive plants I photographed. In both cases the leaves are cut off at the end of the season, turned upside down, and used to protect the sensitive growing tip during the winter.
    Tim

    • I can’t even read/hear the word Gunnera now without thinking of my sister Alison’s description in her blog a few months ago:
      “Is Gunnera wonderful or ghastly? I can never quite make up my mind. Anything grown by the sainted Beth Chatto should get the thumbs up I guess, and it is amazingly exciting in the spring when its new shoots push up from the ground and open to great palm-shaped umbrellas, but there’s something really gruesome about it when it’s dying down for the winter, like the plant kingdom’s version of an elephant in its death throes.”
      And her photo in ‘Death & the Garden’ of the Gunnera ‘graveyard’. Urgh. For every upside of amazing herbaceous perennials, there’s certainly a downside!

  3. Agree Catherine, although I find the upturned leaves over the growing tips a lovely gardening trick and somehow a reminder that under there, somewhere, is the spark of spring.
    Tim

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