It’s easy to fall in love with north Cornwall’s rugged, wild coastline and to remember the surfer-dotted seas and the glistening sandy beaches. But what some are yet to discover is the warmer climates of south Cornwall, with its paradisiacal plant life and sheltered rolling countryside. As you step foot in the Helford and Falmouth area, you are greeted with smooth, clear waters perfect for wild swimming and subtropical gardens that offer an other-worldly experience, and the perfect setting for a garden getaway.
The name of Fox is one that occurs regularly in the history of Falmouth town. The family company, G. C. Fox & Sons, was an important ship agent and family members acted as consul to faraway countries such as the United States. Lucky for all who reside in and visit south Cornwall, the Fox family established a collection of several gorgeous sub-tropical gardens, which are available to the public today.
The successful creation of these gardens was due not only to the mild climate of the area, where exotic imports were more likely to survive happily but also to the Fox family’s connections in Falmouth and across the globe. While exotic plants were very much in vogue during the 1800s, and many people liked to collect specimens, the Fox gardens were recognised in their own time as remarkable.
Below we introduce you to the four famous Fox Gardens based in the Falmouth and Helford area and describe what awaits you during a magical visit.
Bring your wellies and discover hidden paths, duck under branches that grow across the paths, and marvel at numerous tree ferns and enchanting blooming shrubs. Meander down the woodland garden valley past the ponds and the beds of rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, ferns and bamboo, towards the sea.
Initially leased as a farm by George Croker Fox in 1765, and passed to his nephew Robert Were Fox I in 1781, whose brother was responsible for the garden at Trebah, and his brother Alfred for the garden at Glendurgan. Robert, a geologist and inventor, was responsible for introducing many of the plant species that can be seen today. Samuel Smith who was appointed gardener in 1889, planted many rhododendrons and developed new hybrids in the garden in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Today, Penjerrick remains in private ownership by Rachel Morin and is at its best in April and May.
Gumboots or other suitable footwear are advised as the paths may be slippery, particularly after some wet days.
Glendurgan Garden, close to Mawnan Smith, is a truly gorgeous garden owned by the National Trust and created by Albert Fox in 1816. It is set in a 30-acre woodland valley that runs down to the pretty fishing village of Durgan.
There are three valleys of Glendurgan to lose yourself in – full of fun, informality, natural beauty and amazing plants. Big leaves and exotic flowers thrive in the jungle-like lower valley and sun-loving specimens enjoy the upper banks. In springtime, thousands of wildflowers carpet the sloping sides of this steep valley.
Wandering through the garden leads down to the unspoilt hamlet of Durgan on the Helford River: a place to watch birds and boats, skim stones, build beach-stone castles and slurp on sweet ice cream sold from the kiosk.
Perhaps the best-known feature of this garden is the laurel maze, which was originally planted in 1833 and was modelled on the maze of Sydney Gardens in Bath. The maze has been completely pruned and renovated over the last thirty years, and a Victorian-style summer house has been reconstructed at the centre.
Trebah Garden has been rated as one of the best 80 gardens in the world. The sub-tropical paradise with a stunning coastal backdrop is the result of 180 years of inspired and dedicated creation. The garden was planted by Charles Fox in 1831 and has been compared to a Himalayan valley.
Discover the magic of this beautiful valley garden, explore under canopies bursting with exotic blooms and follow vibrant tunnels of colour that cascade down to Trebah’s secluded beach on the Helford River.
Offering a year-round experience the garden comes alive in early spring with a colourful array of 100-year-old rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias. In summer the giant gunnera is a magical sight for all to see, and in Autumn, Hydrangea Valley casts clouds of china blue and soft white across the Mallard Pond. In winter their spectacular champion trees dominate the landscape while families of friendly robins greet you bravely as you explore the winding pathways, which amount to over four miles in length.
Located discreetly off Melvill Road in Falmouth, Fox Rosehill Gardens is a bijou, peaceful, subtropical secret. They are a beautiful example of the horticultural and botanical works of the Fox family – indeed the only Fox town garden in existence and they are one of the gems of Falmouth’s several municipal gardens.
Gifted to the public for their enjoyment at the end of the Second World War, the mild Cornish climate allowed for the successful introduction of foreign species. Visitors will find varied species from Australia, New Zealand and South America including lemon, banana and eucalyptus trees, bamboos, agaves and a wide array of palms.
Sea captains brought back many of the plants from various parts of the globe for the Fox family, or from Kew Gardens when excess plant material was produced.
Fox Rosehill gardens have been awarded the national Green Flag Award in recognition of the garden work in environmental protection and enhancement.
From the entrance, you’re welcomed onto the main lawn by a delicate vista fringed with ironwood and tulip trees planted in 1916 to mark Howard Fox’s 80th birthday.
Notice the multitudinous textures and colours from the scores of plants and trees, wander the winding pathways as the sunlight glitters through the leafy openings and enjoy the glasshouse at the north-west of the gardens.