help us use 30,000 dried flowers to create a 60ft garland

National Trust staff, volunteers and for the first time, members of the public at Cotehele in Cornwall, are just starting the painstaking process of creating the longest Christmas garland at any Trust property in the country.

30,000 flowers have been grown, picked and dried in the garden at Cotehele and will now be added one by one to create a stunning 60ft garland –  which forms an integral part of the Christmas display at the property.

Every November, the historic house opens to the public so visitors can watch staff and volunteers putting the garland together from flowers such as Ornamental Grasses, Everlasting Sand Flower, Straw Flower, Paper Daisy, Paper rose and Statice. It takes the team at Cotehele over 600 hours to pick all 30,000 flowers required.

Constructed during November by a team of staff and volunteers, the spectacular result can be seen daily through December, except 25 and 26 December.

Dave Bouch, Head Gardener at Cotehele, says, ‘Each year the Garland is different, depending on which of the specially grown flowers have done well during our summer. What will also be different this year is that we will be encouraging members of the public to help us create this magnificent garland. This year, as always has been a very difficult growing year growing but for different reasons, with a cold dry start to the year we did not start picking our flowers until late June and in previous year we have started to pick on the 1st April. So as you can imagine a small amount of worry from the garden team.

‘I am very pleased with this year’s crop and really excited to start work on this project, if you have not seen the Garland at Cotehele you must. It should be on every ones ‘Christmas list for a visit’, he added.

Elsewhere in the hall, traditional decorations include conifer and Mahonia around the door ways perhaps highlighted with some native berries from the garden. We also hang Beech and hazel branches from the wall.

Ring in seasonal change with “leaf line”

Visitors wanting to know how the autumn colours are developing at Stourhead Gardens in Wiltshire can now call a special ‘leaf line’ for the latest updates.

Although autumn colours started showing early on some trees, gardeners are reporting a steady start to autumn which is likely to linger into November.

The special leaf line – 01747 841152 – will have regular recorded updates from Stourhead head gardener Alan Power as the 600 different species of trees and shrubs in the world-famous landscape gardens change. The recorded update is accessed by dialling the number and selecting option 6.

‘We had a few early hints of autumn, and the Maples, the Norway and Japanese Maples, are already fading but they are always among the first to turn. The rest of the garden is coming along a nice steady pace,’ said Alan.

‘Autumn is not a one day event – there is no single best time to visit. It is a six to eight week period when people love to come and visit and plot the changes as the colours wash across the different trees in the garden.

‘Right now the beech is just starting to show the very first signs of colour but the oak is still very green. It is always the one of the last to turn.’

Every autumn at Stourhead is different as the trees respond to weather throughout the summer and subsequently during September. Depending on the amount of moisture in the ground and the stresses the trees have suffered from weather over the summer months, autumn can start very suddenly or can develop gently across the gardens.

Alan reports that this year has seen a gentle start with different types of trees in the plant collection starting to change at different times.

‘It is the autumn that brings out the best in the gardens here. The plant collection itself is worth coming to see but added to it the architectural features within the landscape, the way the trees reflect in the lake – especially when the tulip trees on the islands turn yellow – makes autumn well worth the time of watching the changes develop,’ he said.

The vision of the garden was laid down in the 18th century by Henry Hoare II who placed Stourhead at the forefront of the 18th-century English landscape movement. Inspired by the views of Italy captured by artists in paint, he decided to create a landscape garden at Stourhead that would bring art to life.

His work was carried on by his grandson Richard Colt Hoare who added to the garden and developed the current paths also adding many of the broadleaved trees, especially beech, acers, chestnuts, planes and the tulip trees.

Throughout autumn there are several events planned at Stourhead including A Fungi Foray on 8 October, a woodland Trim Trek on 29 October and an autumn colour Walk on 30 October.

For more information on events at Stourhead visit the website


Chasing butterflies

A powerful symbol of freedom and beauty, nothing quite sums up the British spring and summer like the butterfly. This spring, National Trust naturalist Matthew Oates has picked some of his favourite spots to see these colourful creatures as they gently fly through the countryside and gardens in the South West.

Matthew Oates, a butterfly fan for more than 40 years, said: “Butterflies are fascinating in the extreme. They take you to the most captivating of all places – woodlands, mountains, grasslands and the coast – and the more you learn about them, the more you realise there is to be learnt, and the less you know.

“Over the last two decades a minor social revolution has occurred: butterflies have become cool. They have found their way into all aspects of our life from advertising to diaries and notebooks.

“Butterflying is now as popular a hobby as it was in the heyday of collecting, back in the 1890s, with the big difference that enthusiast are only armed with cameras.”

A new book by Matthew Oates, Butterflies: Spotting and Identifying British Butterflies will be published this June.  It will help both beginners by explaining the key points and fundamental principles of butterfly spotting, and more experienced butterfly watchers in need of expert tips and sharpening the focus.

Containing lots of identification tips, the book is a guide on how to get yourself into the right frame of mind when looking for and observing butterflies. It includes chapters on the history of butterflying and on the English and scientific names of butterflies together with useful summary chapters on photographing butterflies and gardening for butterflies.

Mathew’s five top tips for spotting butterflies:

  1. Master the easy species first and leave the difficult ones till later. Feel unabashed at lumping Small and Essex skippers together and treating the Large and Small Whites as ‘cabbage whites’ – instead enjoy your easy Marbled Whites and Peacocks.
  2. Concentrate on the brighter, showier and more prominent males. It is wise to ignore the female blues at first, for example, and get to know them through observing the mating pairs.
  3. Learn the habitats, food plants and flight seasons. They will provide general guidance.
  4. Use binoculars. It also makes people think you are a birder, and not a weirdo.
  5. Seek help. Join a wildlife group and attend some field meetings.

A stunning sign of spring at Overbeck’s

Overbeck's Magnolia

A stroll in any of our gardens at this time of year is always lovely but if you’re lucky enough to get to Overbeck’s nr Salcombe like I did this week, take a moment to go and view the stunning 110 year old Magnolia Campbellii ‘Overbecks’. This stunning tree year on year attracts the crowds and with a backdrop that includes the Salcombe estuary its almost overwhelming in its beauty.

The garden has undergone quite a makeover recently with the planting of 1000 spring bulbs, 300 rare endangered species. Combine a visit with a made to order picnic or a Otto cream tea (or maybe both) and there is no better place to relax and rejuvenate after the cold winter months.

Overbeck’s opens for its new season this Saturday 12th March. More details from our website at

Building bridges at Trelissick

the new bridge at Trelissick

A voyage up the National Trust at Trelissick’s Lamouth Creek by oyster punt has led to a new bridge being built for walkers setting out towards Roundwood Quay.

Eighteen months ago the Trust’s Area Warden Neil Stevenson and timber frame expert Tom Beer travelled by water up the creek to hatch a plan for a replacement bridge for the rotting tropical hardwood structure that had lasted twenty-five years’ in the damp environment. The pair set out to use timber from local sources in the construction – preferably finding by-products of other forestry operations.

The majority of the bridge’s construction is green oak sourced from the Trust’s Lanhydrock estate near Bodmin. The oak tree providing the timber had to be felled due to tree safety and to provide better access. The remainder of the timber for the bridge is sweet chestnut from the Trust’s land at Turnaware, on the opposite side of the River Fal to Trelissick. The removal of the sweet chestnut also supports the management of the sessile oak woodlands at Turnaware which are a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). A generous grant from the Forestry Commission enabled the chestnut removal and subsequent timber supply to the bridge. The Commission also funded part of the actual bridge construction.

Tom designed and built the bridge in sections in an outbuilding at Pill Farm on the Trelissick estate, taking inspiration for its curving shape from the wheels of farm carts housed at the Farm. Its installation at the head of Lamouth Creek has been a source of great interest to walkers over the half-term period – with the added interest of heavy horses working in the woods around the bridge to extract timber from coppicing, pollarding and thinning activity.

Area warden Neil Stevenson said ‘Building this beautiful new bridge here has mixed a lot of different elements together into one really fulfilling project – high quality conservation of the SSSI sessile oak woodland at Turnaware through removal of chestnut trees, enabling better access at Lanhydrock through the felling of their unsafe oak tree which was used to make the bridge, employing local craftspeople and sawmills and adding a real source of beauty to this area of the estate at the same time as providing access. I’m incredibly grateful to the Forestry Commission for their financial support at many levels within this project – and hope that we’ve ensured most of the bridge lasts for many decades to come’

The new bridge is open for both two- and four-legged walkers and is part of the network of paths around Trelissick which take in woodland, open parkland and water-side parts of the estate. The full Trelissick walk can be downloaded from the Trust’s walking site: In November 2010 Trelissick’s woodland walk was featured as the Telegraph website’s walk of the week.

Photographs of the bridge in construction can be found on Trelissick’s Facebook page ‘National Trust – Heart of Cornwall’. The walks at Trelissick are open all year with a £3.50 car parking charge for non-National Trust members.

Spring is here so get out and grab it

Well its happened! Spring has finally arrived with the usual great show of colour in our wonderful South Weset gardens.

Rhododendrons, Magnolias and Camellias all bursting out in glorious blooms. This week blue skies are forecast and this will be a perfect opportunity to see these spectacular plants against a backdrop of true clear Blue Sky.

Camellias and Rhododendrons appear to be particularly good this year but the good old favourite Magnolias are still providing wonderful value for money and the ‘ohs and ahs’ as only they can do.

The only thing is don’t hang around and miss this visit one of our National Trust gardens soon, and put a bit of natures light back into your life. Check our website for more details

Uncover history in our Cornish gardens this spring

When wondering through one of our Cornish garden’s in spring head up looking at spectacular magnolia and camellia blooms against a perfect blue sky (well one can dream) you could be forgiven for not noticing the less blousy show offs whether plant or feature.

So I would recommend slowing down, taking a good look around and try and take it all in. To help you on the way I will share some of my favourite but lesser known stories and facts from our great gardens.

Gustav Hamel pictured with the Bolitho family at Trengwainton

Starting on the balmy banks of the Helford sits Glendurgan.  What was it that attracted Alfred Fox in the 1820s to take up residence and start of this truly spectacular valley garden? Perhaps it was the orchards that benefited from the sheltered climate of the valley, something the team at Glendurgan had been long keen to re-establish and so in 2009 planted a new orchard just above the maze.

Moving further west to Trengwainton, perhaps lesser known is that one of the earliest ever aircraft landed in the field near the garden terrace and was piloted by Gustav Hamel, the son of a German born royal physician.  Hamel was a pioneering aviator and the exploit for which he is best known is flying a Bleriot aircraft on September 9th 1911, covering the 21 miles between Hendon and Windsor in 10 minutes to deliver the first official airmail to the Postmaster General.

When he was at Trengwainton the Bolitho family built a canvas hangar for the plane while he stayed there as a guest.  This all caused quite a stir in West Cornwall, no one was thinking of carbon footprints or claiming air miles in those days!

Ok, but what about the plants I hear you cry… the reason the enormous Magnolia cambellii has such a vast spreading canopy at Trengwainton is because of pure greed…. Well greed for flowers, pruning the non flowering straight shoots every year has caused the tree to keep growing out whilst putting all of its energy into flowering at its best not producing more suckers.

Just West of Bodmin Moor sits Lanhydrock; if you have visited before did something catch your eye?  Eye catchers were often used in gardens to draw attention whilst walking, at Lanhydrock If you stand in the circular herbaceous border look at the building to the North, its not quite what it seems. Actually it’s a functional barn but given an Ornamental Gothic façade in the early 19th century to make it stand out and catch your eye from the garden.

Climb to the top of the garden and enjoy the view and a rest in the small thatched summer house.  It was built to commemorate two things; all the work the National Trust gardeners did to repair the enormous damage caused by the great storm in 1990 and the 27 years of work Head Gardener Peter Borlaise BEM did at Lanhydrock.

Just before you get to the Tamar, drop into Cotehele where recent changes have seen the planting of a Mother Orchard.  Filled with old Tamar varieties of apples, some which are at risk of being lost from cultivation.

But Cotehele has a long rich past, a hint of which might be gained by sitting in the small summer house at the head of the valley garden where you overlook the ornamental pond, which started life as a medieval stew pond where fish were kept for food and the 15th century Dovecot, both which helped stock the larder in those days!

I must finish by saying there is lots more to discover so go and find out for yourself, and what a perfect time of year in which to do so.

Ian Wright

National Trust Garden’s Advisor

Your outdoor nation

We’re keen to develop what we can offer in terms of outdoor spaces and experiences, so we’ve launched a 6 month campaign to raise awareness of the outdoors.

We’re well known for our work with houses, but less known for our work with the outdoors. Yet we manage great swathes of countryside and coastline which are available for people to use for walking, cycling, camping and simply enjoying being outside. The majority of our houses have spectacular outdoor spaces and places that are available throughout the year too, yet many people believe everything stops in October when most of our houses close for winter cleaning and restoration.

Outdoor Nation Plym Woods

We’ve extended our opening hours so people can enjoy our gardens, parklands and woods and we’re opening many of our shops, tea rooms and restaurants throughout the winter months. So we’re creating a debate – conversation not consultation – to gather people’s views on what Britain feels about outdoors, whether we are losing touch with the countryside and what we need to do to rekindle that love affair

Please visit to let us know your views or you can let us know what you think here on your South West blog.