Press Coverage of Penjerrick Garden

Western Morning News, Living Cornwall, 17 May 2005

Penjerrick Garden was featured in the Western Morning News, and the author, Simon Parker, has kindly allowed us to use his article on our website.


An encounter with fantastic Mr Fox

In the final part in his series celebrating the spring gardens of Cornwall, Simon Parker explores the jungles of Penjerrick

A tree creeper, like a tiny mouse, scampers up the trunk of an enormous exotic fern ahead of me, before taking flight; a nuthatch stops briefly to extricate an insect from a crevice in the log at my feet; the gleaming, arched back of an otter slides through a weed-covered pond. I had been sitting on a bank in the jungle area deep within Penjerrick's semi-tropical valley for only a brief time when this everyday drama by three of Nature's everyday performers was played out just feet from me.

However, it was as I got up to move on that I witnessed perhaps the most unexpected sight. A fox, probably a young male and looking extremely healthy, nonchalantly sniffed the base of a bamboo, before disappearing under an overhanging rhododendron.

Anyone who lives in the country will know that foxes are smart fellows, and on such a clear, still, balmy May afternoon, he would definitely have been aware of my presence. Yet this superb specimen paid me absolutely no heed whatsoever - it was as if he owned the place. It was then, considering the idea of ownership, that a slightly obtuse fantasy came to mind. Could this bushy-tailed beast be the same Mr Fox who laid out this garden all those years ago?

Penjerrick has a rich history, having been created as a summer residence in the late 18th century by the famous Fox family, who were also responsible for the gardens at Glendurgan. Robert Were Fox, a noted geologist, mining expert and natural philosopher, who died in 1877 at the age of 98, is credited with having naturalised more than 300 species of plants. He knew every corner of this 15-acre plot. Could it have been Robert's tail I saw brushing the dark green, overhanging leaves of the giant rhododendron? This demented wandering may, of course, have been fuelled by the pint of strong ale I'd sunk at the Red Lion in Mawnan Smith half an hour earlier - but it does, nevertheless, serve to point up the absolute tranquility of this very special place.

On my way to this horticultural gem situated close to Budock Water, I happened to pass the busy car parks of nearby Glendurgan and Trebah. And while not intending to pit Penjerrick against its enormously popular neighbours - or any of the other excellent success stories in this part of south-west Cornwall - there is no denying its enviably quiet ambience. With not a single vehicle on the driveway, I found myself alone in a place with a unique atmosphere.

The garden is entered by an unremarkable iron gate at the end of a short drive. There is no ticket office and no one to take your money, so it is necessary to keep an eye out for the single honesty box on the way round.

Once inside, visitors - who will need stout shoes or boots and be reasonably sure-footed - will immediately spot a giant Chilean podocarpus salignus, a pair of paulownias, a gingko biloba, a cypress and an acer osakzuki. Straight away it is clear that Penjerrick's collection is both varied and extremely mature.

Passing carpets of bluebells and wild garlic, the narrow paths wind down past an enormous magnolia campbellii, the twisted trunk of a calico, plus scented laurelia, a Penjerrick Cream rhododendron, a handkerchief tree, and Californian redwood. In addition there are grand and specimen camellias, magnolias, acers, azaleas and bamboo.

But Penjerrick keeps its real treasures in reserve; over a bridge is the luxuriant valley garden with a series of ponds and massive tree ferns that date back almost to the original planting of the garden.

This valley, which seems to go on and on and on, oozes antiquity and is so secluded that it feels as if you might have stumbled into an area closed to the public. One pool is fringed by black bamboo, gunnera and iris, another boasts scores of gnarled and propped tree ferns - as good as can be found anywhere.

In short, Penjerrick is an example of what happens when a woodland garden comprising large, flowering shrubs is allowed to grow away, to self-seed, to go native. Ducking to avoid overhanging boughs and picking through tortuous muddy paths, the terrain is not suitable for everyone, but there is something quite magical about this small and verdant corner of Cornwall.

However, it might all have been quite different. In 1990, Penjerrick was left to the National Trust by Janet Fox, along with a substantial endowment. Inexplicably, the trust turned down the offer because the bequest was not considered to be adequate. Consequently, the garden is now owned and maintained by Mrs Fox's daughter, Rachel Morin. Through her efforts, and those of Peter Hart, it survives as a place of peace and beauty.

One fan, Georg Asmussen, whose enthusiasm for Penjerrick led him to create a website dedicated to it, said: "The garden has got everything a garden enthusiast needs: plants, plants and more plants, secret corners, winding paths, thriving shrubs, towering trees, lush green. Do not visit Penjerrick, however, if you prefer neatly laid out flower beds or if you are looking for a cup of tea - you will not find either here. It is 'just' a garden - and that is all we could wish for."

I couldn't agree more. On leaving, I was stopped by a couple, who thrust a £5 note into my hand. They mistook me for Penjerrick's owner. Owner of Penjerrick? That's what dreams are made of. Now where's that fox gone...?

Penjerrick Garden is situated about three miles south-west of Falmouth. Coming from the A39, initially follow the signs for Trebah and Glendurgan gardens and, after three miles follow signs for Penjerrick. It is open March to September on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 1.30pm to 4.30pm. Admission is adults £2, Children 6-16 £1 and under-fives free. Enquiries to Rachel Morin on 01872 870105.

sparker@westernmorningnews.co.uk



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