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If you love historic or planned gardens then you must visit the mysterious Lost Gardens of Heligan.
This incredible estate dating back centuries was, for a long time, a mystery. A forgotten paradise that had been buried under a grove of brambles and thorns.
That was until the secret was uncovered and this sleeping beauty was revived through Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
Today, the lost gardens are a popular attraction in Cornwall and they make an incredible day out for every type of traveller. You could spend hours getting lost in their arboretum, gullies, canopies and topiary!
Here’s a complete visitor guide for the Lost Gardens of Heligan with its incredible history and things to do here.
The amazing Lost Gardens of Heligan History
So, why is it called the Lost Gardens of Heligan? Well, until fairly recently this garden was truly lost.
Destroyed, buried, a place that time forgot. It fell to the wayside after the First World War, like many prominent estates and gardens did in the UK.
But, in 1990, parts of the mysterious property were rediscovered and it became of great interest. So much so, that a project was initiated to revive them. After 2 years, it was opened to the public.
For the last 30 years, new discoveries have been made all the time. The 200 acres of gardens are still being taken care of, renovated and continually restored. There are even plans for the next 30 years!
It’s been brought back to life for people to enjoy once more. However, a big question remained.
What was the story behind this Eden that was altogether cast away?
Historic records and excavations made during the project paint a good picture.
Records tell us that a manor home was built on the estate of Heligan around the early 1200s and was owned by the Arundell family. The name Heligan in Cornish means Lowarth Helygen, meaning “willow tree garden”.
The Arundells of Lanherne or “the Great Arundells” settled in Cornwall around the area of Mevagissey from the Norman age.
This was until Sampson Tremayne purchased the land and Heligan House in 1569.
It has remained in the Tremayne family ever since but has undergone constant renovations over the years to suit the fashions of the era.
In 1603, William Tremayne built Heligan House in the Jacobean style. Then it was rebuilt in the Willam and Mary style by Sir John Tremayne in 1692.
Georgian & Victorian Era
It was around the middle of the 18th century when the gardens on the Heligan estate were properly developed and managed by the Tremayne family.
It started off with Henry Hawkins Tremayne, who wanted a series of rides to be built on the estate for his horses. Then, a series of walled flower gardens were installed and a Melon yard.
During the 18th century, the newly discovered tropical pineapple became a coveted item for the rich and wealthy. So, the Tremaynes established a Heligan Pineapple Pit which was the fashion!
This is something that is still in use today.. more of that later..
With new discoveries being made around the world in the British colonies, many wealthy families wanted tropical plants to thrive on their lands.
So, John Tremayne secured, imported and planted exotic species.
By the year 1900, there were a team of over 20 gardeners who looked after the acres on the estate. There was then a ravine, sundial and Italian gardens that were added.
World War I, II and Post-war
During the First World War, the estate became entirely focussed on the war effort. Many of the gardeners were called to fight and some tragically died.
The woodlands were cut down and the manor house was offered to soldiers as a convalescent home.
The Second World War, with the introduction of American troops in Britain, meant that Heligan House was used as a base. They practised the Normandy landings nearby on Pentewan Beach!
Finally, in the Post-war period, the house was tenanted out by Jack Tremayne who could ‘no longer live with the ghosts’.
Eventually, it was sold off and converted into flats in the 1960s.
The gardens around the estate were no longer cared for and fell into decay and were forgotten. Covered in debris, brambles and thorns. What was once a great estate, was now a chapter of history.
The discovery and restoration
Jack Tremayne, who was the last direct descendant of the family, died without any children.
So the estate and property were inherited by members of the extended Tremayne family like John Willis.
Willis then started to survey the land in 1990 and made a discovery of the derelict garden with renowned gardener Tim Smit, who worked on the Eden Project.
They instantly fell in love with the site and started a huge restoration programme to renovate and restore the lost gardens.
Within two years, the gardens were open to the public and gained worldwide fame. They were named the most prominent Botanical gardens in Britain.
Over time the team have lovingly restored over 200 acres of land and its now Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
Even now, new discoveries are being made and added to the estate all the time.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan Pineapple
Did you know that the Lost Garden of Heligan has the only functioning Pineapple Pit left in Europe?!
Nowadays, we can easily pop to the supermarket and purchase pineapples in abundance. But, a few hundred years ago, they were very much the new fangled thing.
During 18th-century Britain, pineapples were the nobilities new obsession!
People were painting them, writing about them in books and even building houses shaped like them! I know, because I’ve actually visited a Pineapple house in Dunmore, Scotland – read all about it in my complete guide.
Everyone wanted to taste pineapple and owning one was a sign of wealth. People would even rent them for dinner parties. So, efforts were made in the UK to cultivate them.
Families would create heated pineapple pits and storehouses so that they could grow them at the right temperatures. Of course, with the development of travel and imported goods being that much easier.
Over the years, there was no need for pineapple pits anymore.
But, as the Lost Gardens of Heligan restored the old pit, they made a project to see if they could still grow a pineapple there!
It was a great success and the Heligan pineapples are now world-famous.
Apparently, although they require warm manure to make them over a two year period, they are the best-tasting pineapples outside of the tropics.
The Queen of England was gifted the second pineapple ever made here and her son, Prince Charles, visited to see one on his state visit of his Duchy of Cornwall.
So, how much does it cost to buy a Heligan Pineapple? According to Heligan, it costs the estate over £1,000 to make them and they estimate at auction it will make a bid of approximately £10,000! It’s the most expensive fruit in the world.
Visiting Lost Gardens of Heligan today
The land and house are still privately owned by the Tremayne family but the gardens are leased to the Heligan Gardens company.
It now has a proud National Collection Holder status for their historic Camellias and Rhododendrons.
As one of the most prominent Botanical gardens in the whole of the UK, it’s well worth visiting to uncover its secrets.
So far, since it’s miraculous restoration, it has attracted millions of visitors over the years! Inside you can explore both the gardens and wider estate.
The old summer house, sundial walled gardens and exotic jungles with foliage from around the world.
How long do I need to visit the Lost gardens of Heligan?
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are a HUGE area to explore.
With the 200 acres having many gardens, flower displays, a farmstead, jungle and walks on the estate – you could be here the whole day and still not see everything.
At a minimum, I would say you need at least 3-5 hours if you want to make the most of your visit and explore what’s on offer.
Some things, like their famous instaworthy Burma bridge, have lengthy queues throughout the day as well. So, it’s best to factor that into your day trip.
Practical tips for visiting the Lost Gardens of Heligan
- The Lost Gardens of Heligan are open all year (save Christmas day) but come prepared for the weather! We went in the rain and it wasn’t too bad as most of the jungle provides shaded areas. But, if it’s sunny, bring a hat or suncream as most of the areas are exposed.
- The Burma Bridge is one of the most popular parts of the whole estate. In high season, you could be waiting an hour to cross it. I’d visit early in the morning or later in the day to not be waiting around.
- Although a lot of the walking trails and gardens are accessible, the walks into the Lost Valley are incredibly steep. So, wear a good pair of walking shoes.
- Even if you explore this area the whole day, you still may not be able to see everything! In fact, it could take you months. I’d say four hours will give you a good flavour of the estate and gardens.
- The Lost Gardens of Heligan are dog friendly, but they must be kept on a lead at all times. Plus, they cannot enter the kitchen or café.
- The day does include a lot of walking, so bring some bottled water with you. Or, make use of their cafés and kitchens here that provide refreshments throughout the day.
- Take regular breaks while exploring the land, it can be exhausting, there are plenty of places to do so!
Highlights & things to do in the Lost Gardens of Heligan
So, what is in the Lost Gardens of Heligan? Well, this whopping estate is filled to the brim with exciting stuff.
It’s split across two areas; the planned gardens around Heligan House and then the wider Heligan estate.
The gardens are where you’ll find the summerhouses, flowerbeds, the notorious pineapple pit and bee boles.
The wider estate is where you delve into the tropical jungle with canopy walks and you can venture down into grottos of the Lost Valley.
Or, circle back and meet the farm animals and take the woodland walk to see the famous Heligan topiary statues!
There are honestly so many things to do in the Lost Gardens of Heligan but here are the highlights you really cannot miss.
The estate gardens of Heligan are a Victorian delight. Perfect for history lovers, those that are more green fingered or have an interest in manicured gardens.
It’s full of places that have a productive use like the Pineapple pit, the Bee boles and the Melon Yard.
All these areas grow fruit and vegetables and provide most of the organic produce that is used in the Heligan kitchen and cafés, so it’s well worth checking out.
Then you have the pleasure gardens which are just for admiring. One of my favourite places to explore in the summer was there fabulous Sundial Garden.
It reminded me a lot of The Secret Garden movie from the 90s. Anyone who watched it will know just how exciting it feels to find hidden doorways and tunnels leading to garden spaces. It’s like the ultimate throwback. They made a remake recently!
As you wander around you can take in SO much colour from the flowers that grow around here. It felt like endless rows of pretty petals and it smelt amazing.
The Pencalenik Greenhouse was also something that I loved to see, which was a fabulous glass house full of potted plants!
The wider Heligan estate
Once you’re finished exploring the gardens, then you should definitely make time to explore the wider estate at Heligan. This was definitely the highlight of my visit and felt like such an adventure.
As there were hardly any people about due to the weather, we pretty much had the place to ourselves which made it peaceful and it almost felt untouched.
On your way over, you should check out their Rare Breed farm in between the gardens and estate with all sorts of farmyard friends to meet.
Jungle & Lost Valley
The jungle area of Heligan is incredible. They have installed all of these canopies and boardwalks to allow you to wander around the area and see the treetops.
There are so many tropical plants and trees here, including palm trees, that are hidden in amongst the green.
You can then venture down into their Lost Valley to see the Fern Gully and the Grotto that lie beneath.
It’s a steep walk down but it’s totally worth it as you can see waterfalls, hop on stepping stones over hidden lakes and much more.
Burma Rope Bridge
One of the highlights of visiting the Jungle is to cross over the Lost Gardens of Heligan Burma Rope Bridge! This is so fun and also doubles up as a pretty neat photo location for your Instagram if you were looking for one.
As we were here when it was raining, there was no one waiting for the bridge. So, it meant that we had it empty for ages. But, on sunny days, summer holidays or weekends it can get busy.
We walked passed signs here that said ‘from this point the wait is 60 minutes to cross the rope bridge’!! It’s really popular.
So, to avoid long queue times, I would get here early morning as it opens or later in the afternoon.
Crossing it is one way only and not for the faint-hearted! It will take you over a pretty high gorge hidden in amongst the trees.
The Woodland walk is a really scenic trail that takes you on a loop back around to the Ticket office and exit. So, we did this part at the very last.
It’s popular for many reasons but mostly due to the fact it’s home to all the interesting statues and sculptures of the park!
Here, you can spot the famous Mud Maid, the Grey Lady Statue and The Giant’s Head.
There are also lots of wildflowers and wildlife to spot in this 200-year-old forest made for the Tremayne family.
Heligan Kitchen, Bakery & Shop
Once you’ve finished exploring, you are bound to feel peckish or want a pick me up and thankfully the Lost Gardens of Heligan have plenty of places for a snack break.
We made a stop at the Heligan Kitchen & Bakery for a spot of cake and coffee after our long and wet walk. But, they do serve up main dishes at lunchtime as well.
Before you leave, you must check out their huge shop which is full of souvenirs. Locally made pottery, candles, bags, magnets and mugs are here to purchase.
Or, if you’re feeling like taking home part of the garden for yourself they have a whole range of succulents and potted plants to buy!
Lost Gardens of Heligan discount, prices & opening times
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are privately owned and are open all year round apart from Christmas day.
Their opening times from;
- October – March are 10am – 5pm with the last admission at 3.30pm.
- From April – September they are open 10am – 6pm with the last admission at 4.30pm.
Tickets are £16 for adults and £8 for children. Discounts are available for students and concessions.
Also, they have many combo tickets with other attractions like the Eden Project. Click here for more details. They are not affiliated with the National Trust, RHS or English Heritage.
Where is the Lost Gardens of Heligan?
The Heligan estate is tucked away in the county of Cornwall near Mevagissey. You can easily access the gardens from Saint Austell, Newquay or Truro.
From either of these and the A30 near Bodmin, you’ll find the brown tourist signs pointing you in the right direction for the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
We used our SatNav to take us here, but the route was AWFUL and took us down many winding, steep, single track and narrow country roads.
It’s easiest to follow the tourist signs to avoid that especially if you have a large car.
Lost Gardens of Heligan parking is FREE for customers of the gardens, shop or café.
How to get to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall
It’s easiest to have a car to navigate to the Heligan Estate but there are plenty of ways to access the gardens with public transport.
The nearest train station to the Lost Gardens of Heligan is in Saint Austell which is a five miles drive from the estate.
From here, you take the Travel Cornwall 471 service that runs from Saint Austell, stopping at Mevagissey and then takes you to a bus stop right outside the gardens Heligan.
Where to stay near the Lost Gardens of Heligan
There are currently no accommodation options inside the estate itself.
However, there are plenty of hotels and guest houses dotted around Mevagissey and Saint Austell to call home for a few days;
The Mevagissey Bay Hotel – this amazing hotel is in the heart of Mevagissey near the picturesque harbour and has panoramic views of the sea from their bedrooms and terrace. Click here for rates.
The Cornwall Hotel & Spa – this hotel is renowned throughout the county and has just had a refit. Set on 43 acres of parkland, this 19th century property has a range of boutique rooms and lodges to book. Plus, you can indulge in their very own spa with an infinity pool! Click here to book.
The Pier House – Located in the stunning historic port of Charlestown in Saint Austell, this 18th century coaching in has a prime position overlooking the sea! Owned by the St Austell brewing company there is a friendly pub and restaurant onsite. Click here for rates.
Heligan Campsite – If you were simply looking for a place to park your camper van or pitch your tent the 5* Heligan Caravan and campsite is just nearby. It’s in an isolated area overlooking Mevagissey bay!
Things to do near Lost Gardens of Heligan
If you were looking for more amazing things to do in the area. The area around Mevagissey, Saint Austell and Par have some of the best attractions to offer in North Cornwall.
You can find seaside ports and harbours, explore historic towns, stroll around more gardens or lose yourself in Cornwall’s natural beauty spots.
The Eden Project is another popular attraction that was the brainchild of Tim Smit, one of the founders of the Lost Gardens!
The project aims brings to bring Eden to England through the rainforest, gardens and desert. It claims the title of having the largest indoor rainforests in the world.
You can explore their unique biomes’ and see crashing waterfalls, take canopy walks in amongst the trees, feel the heat of the desert and climb inside tree houses.
As well as the biomes, there are plenty of outdoor gardens to explore, organic restaurants to eat in, sculpture trails, a huge farm shop and even zip-lining!
You can buy a combination ticket along with the Gardens of Heligan. See here for more details.
Just a few miles from Saint Austell, you can step back in time in Charlestown with its historic harbour and port.
Famous for its Tall Ships docked in the harbour, it’s shot to fame in recent years being the filming location for movies, and prime time TV shows like Poldark!
Beyond the film spots, there are plenty of things to do in this quaint harbour village.
You can explore the pebbled beach with smuggling tunnels, see the shipwreck museum, pop into its many cafés and eateries or simply take in the views.
Yes, it does have the title of Britain’s wettest moorland and used to be a smugglers hideout, but don’t let that put you off visiting!
Bodmin Moor has long been recognised as a beauty spot and has acres upon acres of land to explore.
It may also surprise you but there are also historic woodlands here with scenic waterfalls and some cute cafés hidden away too.