Favorite Gardens: The Lost Gardens of Heligan

The Lost Gardens of Heligan defy definition. To say this is an old English estate that’s now a public garden conjures images of yet another Wisley or Sissinghurst. But that would ignore the incredible whimsy of this place.

A former 1,000-acre property that boasted some of the most stunning gardens in England in its heyday (the late 1800s), the garden fell into disrepair and out of everyone’s memory after most of the gardeners died in World War I and the last remaining family member retired to Italy.

In 1992, Tim Smit, record producer and designer of the Eden Project, along with one of the original family’s remote descendants, decided to renovate the gardens in what is called the most ambitious garden restoration project in history.

It’s now “the Nation’s favorite garden,” (according to a BBC poll), and is well worth a visit for its lush jungle, the massive specimens of rhododendron and camellia, the kitchen garden (with the only surviving pineapple house in Europe), and the lush woodland. The Heligan Wild initiative expands the scope of the garden to include both domestic and wild animals, which adds a lively dimension to an already wonderful experience.

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