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Spring Blossom – where to find the best in Cornwall

Heard of the Japanese concept of Hanami? Meaning 'flower viewing', it's the practice of observing and enjoying the seasonal blossom of Spring.

We’re all familiar by now with the Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing’, nothing to do with lying down in a bath of pine needles (thankfully) but rather the idea of immersion in nature and its many wellness benefits.

But have you heard of hanami? Roughly translated as ‘flower viewing’ this is the practice of enjoying the fleeting beauty of blossom as trees burst into flower after a long winter.

There’s even a gorgeous Japanese expression, hana no ame, that refers to the experience of falling petals surrounding you as you stroll through a garden or orchards and translates as ‘flower rain’.

Traditionally people enjoy Hanami by gathering on a tarpaulin underneath a tree – cherry or plum are the most common in Japan – to enjoy a picnic. Often the blossoming tree is strung with lanterns. Celebrations can also take place at night – known as yozakura.

Tregothnan Gardens Cornwall © Emily Whitfield Wicks

If you fancy trying a bit of hanami here in the UK, and replacing the actual rain with some flower rain, now is the perfect time as the trees burst into bloom.

It won’t surprise you to find that our unique micro-climate in Cornwall means you can start practising hanami much earlier than most of the rest of the country.

In fact, the annual declaration of Spring happened on 26 February this year, almost a full month earlier than the astronomical start of spring (which is this weekend, 20 March), and much earlier than gardens across the rest of the country, which have only just started appearing on the National Trust’s #blossomwatch map (which uses Twitter to create a visual guide).

Cornwall’s declaration comes when 50 blooms have appeared on the designated champion Magnolia campbellii in each of six of the Great Gardens of Cornwall (Heligan, Caerhays, Trewithen, Tregothnan Trebah and Trewidden).

But where to head to practise hanami in Cornwall? Here are some of the best gardens open to the public (if local to you):

Trewidden Gardens, Penzance

Famous for magnolias and camellias, this beautiful and tranquil 15 acre garden with a tea room, plant and gift sales is near to Penzance. Forming part of the historic Bolitho Estate, Trewidden Garden is also home to Trewidden House, a resplendent 19th Century manor house.

Caerhays Castle Gardens, Gorran, St Austell

Caerhays Castle Cornwall © Emily Whitfield Wicks

On the south coast near St Austell you’ll find the magnificent gardens and Grade II listed 140 acre woodland at Caerhays, often described as a spring-time wonderland for visitors. Home to a National Magnolia Collection, the collection even houses a 100 year old Magnolia tree. The gardens also feature many rhododendrons, camellias and trees which are nationally classed as Champion Trees by the Tree Register.

Trebah Garden, Mawnan Smith

Trebah Gardens © Emily Whitfield Wicks

This glorious steep-sided sub-tropical garden winds it way through the 100-year-old rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias which create a riot of pinks, until suddenly you pop out on the private beach on the banks of the unspoilt tidal river, the Helford. Rated as one of the best 80 gardens in the world, Trebah is often named by the people we interview as a personal favourite.

Trewithen Garden, Grampound Road, Near Truro

Trewithen Gardens Cornwall © Emily Whitfield Wicks

Trewithen has nearly 30 acres of woodland gardens and about 200 acres of surrounding parkland. In 2012, Trewithen received the accolade of becoming an International Camellia Garden of Excellence – one of only 39 gardens in the world to have that honour (and 1 of only 5 in the UK). Among the many spring highlights is the UK’s finest specimen in cultivation of Magnolia campbellii subsp. Mollicomata* which was introduced from China and, standing at over 65 ft high, is one of the glories of the garden.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell

Lost Gardens of Heligan Cornwall © Emily Whitfield Wicks

Experience the awakening of their fabulous collection of historic shrubs and explore the ‘National Collection of Camellias and Rhododendrons introduced to Heligan pre-1920’ – Heligan’s expert gardeners have helped produce a self-guided trail that will take you on a journey around the garden, taking in beauties like the tree above.

Glendurgan, Mawnan Smith

Three valleys join into one at the National Trust garden at Glendurgan, where a beautiful and intriguing blend of exotic and native plants thrive – including magnolias and camellias. If you are hankering after the more traditional cherry blossom – head straight to the Cherry Orchard where in April and May you’ll also find carpets of bluebells.

Cotehele, Saltash

© Rich Burrow, The National Trust

Speaking of later blossom, Cotehele’s orchards are amongst the earliest in the country to blossom each year. You’ll find cherry as well as pear and plum, each with its own distinctive blossom from late March through to April and May.

& just over the border into Devon…

RHS Rosemoor, Torrington (near Bude)

Plenty to see all year round but spring highlights includes the delicate blossoming orchards, home to apples and pears, as well as the cherry wood. The small South West Orchard features apples chosen either for their West Country connections (including cider), or as cultivars that can be relied upon to perform well in the region.

Cornwall’s Spring Story was founded by Toby Ashworth of The Nare Hotel, in partnership with the Great Gardens of Cornwall. It was in response to the fact that, by waiting until May, many garden lovers were missing the most splendid sight of all – the flowering of the magnolias – which occurred in February and March each year, earlier than in other parts of the country. While most people won’t be able to enjoy Cornwall’s spring gardens this year due to travel restrictions, it is a feel-good reminder of the lighter days to come. 

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