In Cornwall Today I read about a garden I had not heard of before, Trengwainton located in Madron near Penzance. It is a country house with a 25 acre garden in the ownership of the National Trust. It is noted for its collection of exotic tree and shrubs and it also has great views of Mounts Bay and the Lizard.

There was an article on it in the magazine because the history of the Trengwainton Garden is now the subject of a new book ‘Home of Springs’. The book is the culmination of a three year digital heritage project featuring extensive research and the book contains new and archive photos (like the one below of the gardeners), interviews with the descendants of former staff, maps, botanical illustrations, plus gardening tips. It sounds a lovely book. A documentary feature film of the same name will be shown in venues across Cornwall this year. It was filmed during the three year project and shows the garden change over time and seasons.

It was a farm for a long time. In 1867 a Thomas Robins Bolithio acquired the estate and extended the house and made alterations to the grounds. He died without children and left it to his nephew Lt-Colonel E H W Bolithio. With the advice and encouragement of his cousins, he began to develop the gardens with choice trees and shrubs. He was then offered a share in the botanist/explorer Frank Kingdon Ward’s expedition to Burma and Assam in 1927-8, which resulted in plants being raised from seed from the exhibition by the head gardener at Trengwainton, A Creek. One of the glories of the collection is Rhododendron macabeanum whose creamy yellow blooms flowered for the first time in Britain at Trengwainton. A Creek’s successor G W Thomas made a number of new rhododendron crosses. Other plants eg dramatic tree ferns were bought from exotic parts of the world by Frank Kindon Ward.

In 1961 Col Sir Edward Bolitho gave Trengwainton House and gardens to the National Trust, with provision for the family to remain in residence.

It was interesting to find out more about Frank Kindon-Ward. He went on 25 exhibitions collecting plants and among his collections were the first viable seed of Himalayan Blue Poppy, primula florindae (giant cowslip) named after his first wife Florinda, and Rhododendrun wardii, a yellow flowered species. His greatest “swansong” plant was probably Lillium mackliniae found jointly with his second wife after whom it is named.

He survived many accidents on his expeditions including being impaled on a bamboo spike, falling off a cliff (stopped by a tree growing from the cliff), lost for two days with no food, his tent crushed by a tree in a storm, and he was close to the epicentre of an earthquake (registering 9.6 on the Richter scale) during an expedition in Assam, now Northern India.

From 1926 until 1956, almost all his collecting efforts were focused on the mountains and gorges of Burma and Assam.  He was in Burma early in WWII, when the Japanese invaded the country, but thanks to his intimate knowledge of the area, he had little trouble in escaping into India.  There, he instructed the armed forces in jungle survival techniques, and after the war was over, he became employed by the United States government to search for wrecked planes and the graves of lost aircrew. An interesting life!

In all, he wrote some 25 books and an amazing number of articles for journals. And his success as a botanist collector/explorer realized him many honors including the Royal Horticultural Society Victoria Medal of Honor and the Veitch Memorial Medal; the Royal Geographical Society awarded him their Founders Medal and in 1952, he received the OBE for his services to horticulture.

You take all these plants that grow in the UK for granted and don’t think abut the intrepid explorers that brought these plants to our shores.

I am definitely going to visit Trengwainton and the spring sounds a good time. It opens on 17 Feb and in Feb and March you should see camellias, magnolias and snowdrops. Its website is www.nationaltrust.org.uk/trengwainton-garden.

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