The secret GARDENER
Cornwall Life|November 2020
It’s been 30 years since Sir Tim Smit discovered Cornwall’s Lost Gardens of Heligan. Su Carroll talks to him about his horticultural voyage of discovery
Tim Smit

This story plays out like a movie – a kind of Secret Garden for grownups. Imagine this – a city-dwelling record producer who has moved his family to Cornwall for a better life, goes exploring one day and finds a battered, aged door that just asks to be opened.

When our hero goes through the door he discovers that the once beautiful and productive estate is now overgrown with bramble and ivy, buried under decades of neglect. In one small corner of this jungle, under a mound of weeds and fallen masonry, he discovers a tiny room. It is frozen in time, a place where the gardeners working this estate would take shelter. On the wall – barely legible – is a motto: “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber.” The date offers a clue to how the garden came to be in such a sorry state. August 1914. Here laboured the men who left their Cornish home for the Great War, never to return. They are the reason why this is a green sleeping beauty.

The camera zeroes in on the man who has stepped back in time – Tim Smit. A man with a vision that this land could thrive again. A man with the passion, the enthusiasm and the persuasiveness which will be the key to unlocking The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

These gardens were rescued, carefully restored and lovingly rejuvenated and this year marks the 30th anniversary of their opening. Tim is still there, still fired up with a passion for this and the world-famous attraction which followed in its wake – The Eden Project.

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