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Flowers & Gardens

Trewithen Gardens

Kitty Galsworthy takes us on a tour of the family estate in Cornwall...
Trewithen Gardens, the wonderful Cornish estate with historic house and abundant gardens, is family-owned and operated by Sam and Kitty Galsworthy. Along with their three children, the family now reside in the home that once belonged to Sam's great, great-grandfather. Their vision for Trewithen is simple - to celebrate and share the beauty of nature now, be respectful of the house and gardens' great heritage, and safeguard it for future generations. By restoring and regenerating, they are taking a fresh approach to land management, both above and below ground.
"Trewithen is Cornish for 'House in the Trees'. It is a woodland garden, at its most exciting in Spring when there is an abundance of early colour and scent'', shares Kitty.
If the woodland trees could talk, they would tell tall tales - of seasons of growth and change; of disease, storms, war, plant hunting expeditions, exotic species; and of generations of family that love the land. With over three hundred years of heritage, Trewithen has many different areas and botanical species to discover - from organic parkland and champion trees; to sculpture, and conceptual art to historic planting, woodlands, eagle ponds, and the restoration of the historic Georgian manor house. 

Kitty tells us about the current projects and plans for the estate; what a typical visit might entail; and her family's favourite other Cornish hotspots...

Every plant tells a tale. Among the blooms and branches are the stories of people, places, and moments in time; the camellia carried in the satchel of a roaming plant hunter and the Champion Trees that began life as delicate seedlings tended by long-lost gardeners...
How would you describe Trewithen Gardens…
'Trewithen' is Cornish for House in the Trees, it's a woodland garden, at its most exciting in Spring when there is an abundance of early colour and scent.
Please tell us about the history of Trewithen House & gardens…
The history is fascinating and has evolved over hundreds of years. Every plant tells a tale. Among the blooms and branches are the stories of people, places, and moments in time; the camellia carried in the satchel of a roaming plant hunter and the Champion Trees that began life as delicate seedlings tended by long-lost gardeners.
But history also lies in what we no longer see. The vast, open view from the house, stretching down across the South Lawn, is a lasting reminder of the First World War. At this time, the 300 beech trees that once grew here were 'requisitioned' and cut down to be used as trench props by British and Canadian troops.
In the space left behind, George Johnstone, Sam's great-grandfather, who inherited the house in 1904, was able to create the vista and glade that we see today. Between 1910 and 1932, Johnstone worked with plant hunters to gather astonishing and specialist seed collections. These were shipped back to him in England and successfully cultivated at Trewithen – leading to a botanical reputation that endures to this day.

The Galsworthy family home; Kitty, Sam, and their three children - the current and future custodians of Trewithen.

What is your main focus or goal for the garden/s today?
While Trewithen has a fascinating history, the beauty of all gardens is that they are alive and ever-evolving. Today, our team of gardeners continues to work at creating pockets to delight our seasonal visitors and for the team and family all through the year.  Our focus is on stewardship, in maintaining and making gentle, sympathetic improvements to share with our visitors and eventually to pass on to the next generation to care for.
Your favourite season at Trewithen?
It has to be Spring which comes early in Cornwall and brings so much optimism. We feel lucky to live somewhere where the changing seasons are so evident.  I find a new plant or flower every season - this Spring I discovered Holboellia (Sausage Vine) whose scent wafted over the wall to the stables!
Who is your typical visitor to Trewithen? What does a typical visit entail?
We have many loyal local visitors, specialist plants people and those that are visiting Cornwall. Trewithen is in the middle Cornwall, yet only 20 minutes from either North or South coast. We have the Tea Shed, our very special garden cafe where you can have lunch or get a delicious coffee, pick up a birthday card, present or plant to take home with you. You could walk a short loop on flat gravel paths or choose to spend the day exploring.
What’s your own favourite part of the garden/s?
I'm obsessed with the light so my favourite part of the garden changes through the day. In the morning I love looking out over the parkland trees in the east, watching the first sun casting a spotlight onto the house and garden. Later in the day there's a hot spot on a bench in the walled garden where jasmine grows up the wall which is heaven. We've often stood on the South East corner of the garden where you can watch the moon rise through our Henheadhow sculpture, made by our friend, James Wild, from old estate railing we collected. It means Generation in Cornish and its wooden board has the words 'Salvaged from the past, to ground us in the present, with hope for the future'.
    What are you working on right now in the garden?
    When we moved into the house we spent a lot of time looking at the C18th plans of the House and Garden to try to understand how it had evolved. Sam decided to do some 'destructive gardening' encouraged by a letter written by his Great Grandfather who said 'it was first necessary to take the axe and claim air and light for the trees, first for the house and those that live in it, and then for the plants that must share the fortunes with the owner'. We extended the South Lawn and now we are working on a long grass meadow edge between the formal stripey grass and the woodland shrub beyond.
    Tell us about your gardening team...
    We are really lucky to have people we can rely on, who love what they do. Our guides and gardeners are so passionate and knowledgeable. Gary Long, our Head Gardener of 20 years and his team, including an apprentice and volunteers, work tirelessly in all weathers. The flower showing season has just come to an end and we have brought home an incredible 11 trophies which is a real testament to the mastery of the team.
    Trewithen is a place often described as peaceful, but behind the scenes (or out among the trees), there is a hive of activity. It takes a true group effort to keep the estate running.
    What’s in bloom right now?
    Paulownia, the Foxglove Tree, Camellia Isadora, named after our daughter! In the garden we have over 200 species of Camellia, Rhodedendron, Magnolia and Myrtle with wild garlic, Lily of the Valley and moss underfoot. In the Walled Garden, Geum, Dicentra, Tulips, Primroses and Poppies. In the Water Garden there is a carpet of Bluebells, a Paper Handkerchief Tree dangling over the stream whose banks are pink with Primula Candelabra.
    What about wildlife?
    Because Trewithen is very much a chemical-free zone: everything on our home estate, and within the surrounding land, is organic. It’s our goal that farming practices are always at least restorative, but most often regenerative.  We have a herd of rare breed English longhorn cattle. These are here as part of the practice of silvopasture: integrating woodland into foraging. Elsewhere on the estate, we’re also supporting the natural ecosystem with a thriving bee population across five hives, with more coming soon. We’ve embraced the huge task of making a generational record of condition for all natural capital on the estate, from soil health, water, and air quality to birds, bats, beavers, and beyond. By doing this, and doing it seriously, we can be sure that our stewardship of the land only enhances our habitats and soil health.
    We are never short of an incredible arrangement full of foliage and flowers at any time of year. When the Spring colour fades we have Roses and Dogwoods and then dhalias and an abundance of blue and green hydrangea.
    Do you have a cutting or kitchen garden? Highlights of these and what are you using from them now?
    We have huge plans for our Home Farm where the original productive garden lay. The original walls still stand with some of the hand-inscribed metal labels of fruit varieties. Watch this space! Meanwhile, we cut flowers from all over the garden to use in the House and the Tea Shed. We are never short of an incredible arrangement full of foliage and flowers at any time of year. When the Spring colour fades we have Roses and Dogwoods and then dhalias and an abundance of blue and green hydrangea.
    How do you approach sustainable growing and maintenance at Trewithen?
    We're looking at decisions we make in the garden and on the estate that are considered, rooted in what’s gone before and focused on our future. If you dig beneath our surface, you’ll find that quality, heritage, and true attention to detail run deep. We're looking at how we can learn from the past, be curious about sharing stories and resources, and work with experts to explore new ways of doing things. We’ve undertaken a three-year project in partnership with the University of Exeter and Rothamstead Research to develop a bespoke software tool for farming. This tool will help our tenants and partners to make farming decisions that significantly enhance natural capital in a way that’s specific to an individual area. It is a hugely progressive piece of work with exciting potential for the future.
    What other gardens do you love to visit?
    We are part of the Great Gardens of Cornwall all of which I can recommend visiting while you are in Cornwall. I have also loved visiting gardens abroad, most memorably a May visit to the Garden of Ninfa near Rome. It was as close to heaven on earth as I've ever been!
    Favourite places in Cornwall to visit...
    Our favourite places to visit are the beaches on the Roseland peninsula where we go all year round to swim, walk and collect shells. As a family, we love going to West Cornwall to explore the most inaccessible white sand beaches and every year we go to Tresco on the Isles of Scilly. At this time of year, the sea pinks and gorse are out on the cliffs.
    Kurt Jackson's gallery in St Just is an inspiring space and I love Barbara Hepworth's sculpture garden in St Ives.
    The gardens at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, St Michael's Mount, and the Minack Theatre are very special.
    At Trewithen we are part of a Wildflower seed project growing Corn Cockle, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Campion, and Poppy for harvest. Visiting these meadows when they're flowering, near Crantock is a wonderful sight!
    Our favourite places to eat are The Hidden Hut which serves unexpectedly delicious takeaway lunch on the beach and has sell-out feast nights through the summer; Nancarrow Farm, The Gurnards Head, Mackerel Sky in Newlyn, Gorse Bakery and The Cove Cafe, Hayle, the Rocket Store, Boscastle.
    Our favourite places to shop are Duchy Nurseries for herbs, plants and presents, MMW at Revolver in Newquay and Jo & Co for cleverly sourced clothes the Cornish Store where we get most of our fresh food, all locally grown. OG Collectables is a secret for sourcing affordable antiques and where I find my best vases and planters to use in the house.
    At Philleigh Way Cookery School you can cook and eat your lunch in a wonderful creekside setting on the Roseland, I've done a painting course with Newlyn Art School which is so well placed given Cornwall's incredible art history.
    Head to Wavehunters at Watergate Bay for a surf lesson.

    Visit Trewithen Gardens. Follow @trewithen_life.

    Photography of Trewithen by Danny North. Other imagery courtesy of Kitty via @trewithen_life.