An American in Cornwall: Penjerrick Gardens

Visitors' Book

An American in Cornwall: Penjerrick Gardens

Photography by Annabel Elston

I've always been one for venturing off the beaten track. This is not because I have anything even remotely resembling  a sense of adventure, but because I am cheap and I hate waiting in line. If a place has a ticket booth, guided tours and a cafe serving over-priced espresso, then you can count me out. I'll come back in the off-season, when there aren't so many tourists and the tour-guides are bored.

While Cornwall certainly has its share of high profile tourist destinations, it has an even bigger share of hidden treasures. Places that you happen upon in a muddy field when you're out for a walk or discover by taking a wrong turn. Hidden coves with water the color of sapphires. Ancient stones with no-one to notice them but the cows. The types of places that, if they were anywhere else, would have at least a commemorative plaque and a concession stand waiting in the wings.

Flowers in bloom

Take Penjerrick Gardens. There is no ticket booth, just a rusted 'honesty box' hanging off a gate post at the entrance. There is no tea-room or even public toilets, no souvenir mugs or postcards. Just miles of meandering pathways for you to get lost down.

We went in the spring, when the camellias and rhododendrons were in full bloom. The garden is one of several jungle gardens in Cornwall, the creation of adventurous Victorians who brought back the exotic plants they encountered on their travels to see how they would fair in Cornish soil. Most of them faired very well, which is why Cornwall is populated with palms, bamboo and some of the finest gardens you will find anywhere.

Dr Suess-esque Gunnera

After spending some time staring up into the dizzying branches of a giant sequoia, we headed across a narrow bridge traversing the road. It was startling, in a way, to look down and see cars rushing past. How quickly a garden makes one forget about the rest of the world. On the other side, we found ourselves in what might easily have been the South Asian jungle. The foliage was lush and thick, nearly disguising the scattering of ponds and streams all around us. The Gunnera was sending up its Dr Suess-esque flowers and a few pond lilies glowed yellow against a backdrop of algae shrouded water.

As soon as we'd pushed past the gate of Penjerrick, we entered a different world. Bluebells and wild garlic grew beneath a glade of tree ferns. Above my head, ancient beech trees knocked against giant clusters of bamboo. Ahead, where the rhododendrons grew thickly, the ground was carpeted in a solid blanket of fallen flower petals – pinks, lavenders and magentas the shade of old lady's lipstick that made perfect mirrors of color beneath each tree.

A natural bench

Eventually we came upon a bench that looked to be more moss and lichen than it was wood, but it served the purpose and provided a perfect spot for our picnic lunch. We had not encountered a single other person the entire day. The only sound was the chirping of a robin in the over-hanging trees. And the coffee, which we had brought in a thermos from our favorite Falmouth cafe, was outstanding. If I felt a little smug, you will hardly blame me.

I think all of that would have been enough to make Penjerrick one of my favorite places. But then, as we stumbled back up the path towards the exit, I happened to turn around, and caught an unexpected glimpse of the sea. 

Explore the jungly wonder of Penjerrick whilst staying in a holiday cottage in south west Cornwall

Greenery to get lost in

Danielle Charles-Davies is an American writer and self-professed anglophile. In 2012, she upped her entire family – cats and all – to the other side of the Atlantic for a year-long working vacation in Cornwall.  

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