England: The Tropics of Cornwall

Helford River in the distance at Trebah Gardens, Cornwall England. Mary Charlebois photos
Helford River in the distance at Trebah Gardens, Cornwall England. Mary Charlebois photos

Tropical climate in Cornwall? Cornwall England?

By Mary Charlebois
Senior Writer

Waterfall and pool at Trebah Gardens, Cornwall England
Waterfall and pool at Trebah Gardens, Cornwall England

On the remote, lightly populated, southeast coast of Cornwall in England, you’ll find tropical micro-climates dotted about like lost jungles. Kept warm and moist by the Gulfstream, tropical gardens host beautiful and rare plant collections ranging from English Cottage to Tropical Paradise.

best stories 2018 1In thirteen hundred square miles, Cornwall has over seventy gardens open to public exploration. That number varies depending on who is making the list.

On Cornwall’s less traveled southeast coast, in a thirty-five-mile range, three outstanding tropical gardens share the little-known Tropics of Cornwall.

Trebah Gardens

Set in a Cornish valley, with one end opening to the shore of Helford River, Trebah is exotic, mysterious, rare, and made for exploring. The atmosphere shifts as you exit the visitor center and begin the footpath down into the valley. The air changes.

It’s warm and moist. The smell of rich, fertile earth and scented flowers dominate. It’s tropical, and not your typical English garden.

Over four miles of footpaths wind through the gardens. You walk under canopies of exotic blooms, pass through vegetation tunnels leading to secret outdoor rooms, ponds, waterfalls, and acres of tropical plants. At the shore of the Helford River, the warm water invites you to take a dip in summer or laze about and watch boaters paddle by.

Open year-round, Trebah is different with each season. In spring 100-year-old rhododendrons, magnolias, and camellias, open their blooms and radiate intoxicating scents. Summer brings the giant gunnera. Their size is astounding. In fall, showy hydrangeas bloom, deciduous trees wear their fall leaves. In winter southern hemisphere plants thrive offering a respite from grey doldrums.

Camellia Sinensis, the ‘Chinese Tea Plant’ at Tregothnan Estate, Cornwall, UK.
Camellia Sinensis, the ‘Chinese Tea Plant’ at Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall.

Trebah is more than a garden, it’s a performance venue, art gallery, and center for learning. There are children’s trails and playgrounds. Special events are staged at the garden year-round. Theatre, music, stand-up comedy, puppetry, and dance are performed in the amphitheater and in select areas throughout the gardens.

Your first stop is the visitor center to buy tickets and learn the history and future of Trebah. Locally sourced food is used in the café. A gift shop, restrooms, and picnic areas are accessible for all feet and wheels.

Trebah Garden, Mawnan Smith, Falmouth TR11 5JZ, UK. Open every day, admission ranges from £0–£11. Find directions for auto, train, bus, and cycle on the website.


Cork trees, Australian pines, rhododendrons, a tropical palm-lined road, fern trees, temperate flowering plants, and Camellia Sinensis, the ‘Chinese Tea Plant.’

These plants and trees plus many more cover the vast Tregothnan Estate. All are imports from tropical and temperate climates.

Loaner wellies, umbrellas and walking sticks are available to those touring the gardens at the Tregothnan Trading Shed, Cornwall, England.
Loaner wellies, umbrellas and walking sticks are available to those touring the gardens at the Tregothnan Trading Shed

The largest botanical gardens in Cornwall was formed two-hundred years ago by the sixth Viscount of Falmouth and his brother. In that era, collecting rare plants from around the world was a passionate hobby that gave a start to many of England’s grandest gardens.

Since its infancy, Tregothnan Garden has been a sanctuary for rare and threatened plants collected and protected by members of the Boscawen family.

Home to the Boscawen family since 1334, Tregothnan is a working Cornish estate and home to England’s only tea plantation.

The tropical micro-climate is fostered by the sea just 8-miles away and by the Fal Estuary running through the estate brings with it the warm and moist Gulfstream. In addition to tropical gardens and tea fields, Tregothnan’s working estate cultivates bees, flowers, herbs, fruit, dairy, and timber.

There is always something to do here. Workshops covering estate farming activities from Bee Keeping to Master Tea Making are offered year-round. The December holidays host a Christmas tree lot, wreaths, and handmade holiday decorations.

Camellia Sinensis, the ‘Chinese Tea Plant’ at Tregothnan Estate, Cornwall, UK.
Camellia Sinensis, the ‘Chinese Tea Plant’ at Tregothnan Estate

The Trading Shed and tea room are open to visitors, M-F, 9-5. You may purchase estate tea and other goodies. A virtual reality tour of the gardens is complimentary. Loaner wellies, umbrellas and walking sticks are available to those touring the gardens. Parking, restrooms, and a picnic area are available.

Tregothnan is located at The Woodyard, Tresillian, Truro TR2 4AJ. Truro is about 8-miles from Tregothnan. Take a train or bus to Truro. From there you will need to hire a car or cycle. GPS is advised if self-driving.

Eden Project tropical and rain forest biomes, Cornwall England.
Eden Project tropical and rainforest biomes, Cornwall England.

Garden tours of this private estate are by appointment. Call +44 (0) 1872 520000 to make an appointment at least 24-hours in advance. Your private tour will be led by a savvy garden docent and will cost around £65.

Eden Project

Eden Project isn’t easy to describe but is fantastic to experience. Part botanical garden, part science project, and part amusement park, a visit here is unforgettable.

Eden is a Phoenix that rose from the devastation of a natural resource extraction – china clay. Tim Smit’s bought the economically depleted clay-pit in 1995.

Exploring the Eden Project in Cornwall.
Exploring the Eden Project in Cornwall.

He and hundreds of brilliant people made it what it is today, “…an educational charity, connecting us with each other and the living world, and exploring how we can work towards a better future.”

Eden is snuggled inside a crater. The crater walls and floor are covered with trees and gardens. White biomes dominate the crater floor. The controlled climate structures are tropical and Mediterranean gardens. They are spectacular. As you tour the biomes, walkways take you to the top through jungles, waterfalls, and waterways.

Gardens of every description are planted here. Exhibits and activities are always changing. Exhibits that teach and entertain are a specialty of the imaginative designers of the continually evolving Eden.

England’s longest zip line has people whizzing over the full width of the crater. Eden is accessible to all feet and wheels.

Lively play areas for children, quiet benches for contemplation, hidden garden rooms, and art are everywhere. Eden is a sculpture garden filled with evocative work.

Mede, surrounded by a food, herb, and flower garden at the Eden Project.
Mede, surrounded by a food, herb, and flower garden at the Eden Project.

The visitor center has education, food, beverage, shopping, picnicking, and restrooms. There is a large garden shop selling many of the plants you’ll see as you explore the grounds.

You can get to Eden via auto, train, bus, cycle or foot. Find directions on the website. Modern, pod-like, hostile lodging is available on the property through YHA. A new hotel is planned.

Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG UK. Open every day except December 25th, hours vary seasonally. Admission ranges from £0—£27.50.


The Greenbank Hotel, Falmouth, Cornwall.
The Greenbank Hotel, Falmouth, Cornwall.

Cornwall Estate and Spa – Pentewan Road, Tregorrick, Saint Austell, Cornwall, UK PL26 7AA

Hotel rooms and self-catering woodland lodges are about 5-miles from Eden Project. Guests enjoy beautiful grounds for walking, large full-service spa, and pool. The restaurant serves regional dishes. They specialize in ‘Sunday Roast’ dinners. A full-service bar and lounge provide libations and pub food.

Mevagissey, a Cornish fishing village is 4.5-miles from the Cornwall Estate & Spa. Photo ops are especially beautiful in the early morning as fisherman ready for the day.

Pubs and cafes serve-up hook-to-mouth seafood for lunch and dinner. If the Mevagissey Male Choir is performing in the area, be sure to attend for a rich taste of Cornish life.

Budock Vean Resort Hotel – near Helford Passage, Mawnan Smith, Falmouth, Cornwall, UK TR11 5LG

On the Helford River, Budock Vean is a hotel, resort, and golf course less than a mile from Trebah Gardens. They offer hotel rooms and self-catering cottages, a large full-service spa, pool, tennis, golf, cycling, fishing, and boating.

Beef ribs and cider at the Star and Garter, Falmouth Harbor, Cornwall.
Beef ribs and cider at the Star and Garter, Falmouth Harbor, Cornwall.

Serving BL&D, the restaurant and bar offer traditional European service. The food is skillfully prepared and sourced locally. They served fresh trout during my stay.

It was perfect with lemon and capers. There is a first-rate wine list with a full-service bar. Afternoon Cornish Cream Tea is exceptional.

The Greenbank Hotel – Harbourside, Falmouth, Cornwall, UK TR11 2SR

On the Falmouth waterfront, this historic hotel, bar, and restaurant are about 15-miles from Tregothnan. The rooms here are beautiful and have a view that is watchable day and night. The restaurant serves BL&D, with an enjoyable wine list, and excellent service.

A five-minute walk from Greenbank is the Star and Garter Pub. This warm and friendly place was named the best foodie pub in the SE. With a menu of local favorites, like seafood and beef, try some local beer, cider, or wine. The harbor view is hypnotizing, especially as the sun goes down. They also have rooms if the Greenbank is booked.


If you drive from London, it’s about five-hours to Truro. You will need GPS in this region.

You can also take the train or bus to Truro from London. From there bus, cycle or drive to your destinations. Cornwall has limited train service. Busses are available to the more remote regions. You can rent a cycle or car in Truro.

Dress in layers, it might be warm in the gardens but expect cooler temps in other areas.

Any time of year is right for enjoying the Tropics of Cornwall. The region is filled with beauty, history, agriculture, and friendly people.

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