Inspiring Gardens Series: The Lost Gardens of Heligan

My mom and I love going to England and visiting as many gardens as we possibly can. We’ve been to Sissinghurst, Hidcote Manor, Kiftsgate Court, Highgrove, Kew, Great Dixter, and many others, both large and small. We go mainly because we are obsessed with gardening and love immersing ourselves in the beauty of these magnificent places. But we are also drawn to these gardens for the inspiration they provide us. Now, sometimes that can be a bit problematic. For example, my mom’s yard is tiny, but when we stroll around these iconic gardens, she decides that she needs a pond and a wall and an ornamental tree and a sculpture and a knot garden. Giddy from the lush plantings and perfect designs, we tend to lose all sense of proportion.

But sometimes we just get good ideas that we can easily bring home to our own gardens. Such was the case last year when we visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. I developed a keen interest in Heligan when I first watched a documentary on the discovery and renovation of the gardens there. Once I read the book about it, I quickly added it to my garden bucket list.

I was enamored with the place for two reasons. The first was, of course, the extensive gardens, both ornamental and productive.

The other was its tragic history. When WWI started, most of the 22 gardeners signed up, and unfortunately 16 never returned. The garden fell into disrepair not long after. Now it serves as a memorial to those men.

It is an expansive garden, sprawling over 200 acres of land, so not much of it could be replicated at home. But there was something simple that caught my eye. It was the plant markers they used in their cutting garden. They were large pieces of wood painted white with the plant names written in large print.

I find marking my plants a little tricky. I use little bamboo plant markers when I start seeds, but I realized that they would be a little impractical for the larger scale of a cut flower farm or a vegetable patch. That’s when I remembered the visit to Heligan. All it took to replicate these markers was a trip to the hardware store. A packet of 10 paint mixing sticks is a mere $.98, and a can of white spray paint transforms them into the markers I had seen. Now I can easily identify the many flower and vegetable varieties I grow on the farm without getting on my hands and knees. And I think they are rather attractive. It just goes to show that small inspirations can have a big impact, too.

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