From the upper lawn the view across the valley looked very green. A small patch of the Helford River was just visible beyond the specimen trees and the lower ponds, the woodland on the far hillside seeming an extension of the garden’s greenery. The water too was green, a deep teal, too far to see any movement, the day too dull for reflection or sparkle. But this is what Cornwall does best, nurtures its sheltered hollows of sub-tropical escape from the dull reality of the British weather so that even when a bright sunny day turns overcast you can walk beneath treeferns and bamboo stands green as ever – green as summer – and escape the grey.
After an unpleasantly mild and wet December that set records for warmth and rainfall in the UK, January and the New Year appear to have brought winter. But it don’t snow here, it stays pretty green. Even though it’s cold enough for gloves and a scarf and a woolly jumper it’s not that cold. The sun was out this morning, the sky bright. I made my escape from town to Trebah Garden just a few miles from Falmouth on the northern edge of the Helford, slightly disheartened to find on arrival the afternoon once again overcast, though mercifully without rain.
Here and there were snippets of spring littered about as though dropped from someone’s pocket by accident. Tiny purple crocuses not sure whether to come out or not in the upper lawn. A few snowdrops breaking through the winter-brown flower beds, up but not open due to the lack of sunshine. Spring snowflakes by the artificial rills of the water garden are as close as we’ll get to the white stuff down here I expect. An azalea was out. Only one camellia, which was fewer than I expected. A magnolia tree, as huge as an oak, broad trunked with foot-long leaves – among the first to be planted in this country when specimens were first brought back from the Himalayan botanical expeditions in the 1800s – had a few blooms out: huge waxy goblets high in its branches, the lower limbs still bare of leaf or bud.
Further down the valley the streams from the water garden fill out into a series of pools filling the lower slopes. In summer a jungle of gunnera, the giant, waterside-loving rhubarb-like monster of a plant with umbrella leaves five feet wide under which you can walk, fills the space between the Azolia Pool and what’s known the Hydrangea Valley. Cut back and dormant for the winter the gunnera stumps resemble more some alien lifeform: a mass of hairy stumps, some sprouting a pinkish bud, some sprawled like soggy beasts, a wren dotting about in between their lumpy bodies.
The hydrangeas winter much better. Left with their blossoms to dry on long stalks their desiccation is as attractive and sculptural: sepia, elegant. Here and there a flower head holds the blue of this morning’s sky. I wondered where that had got to.
A double wall separates the valley garden from the beach with steps leading up and over, the public footpath between private land and private foreshore sandwiched between the two. Trebah Beach directly faces the mouth of the Helford River. The cloud cover was drawn down like a blind, a paler stretch right out to sea all that remained of the morning’s good weather. A fishing boat was at the river mouth, its silhouette on the pewter water piloted home with a cloud of seagulls. On the gatepost of the footpath a crust of lichen had grown itself into a tiny cityscape of algae-fungal symbiosis, catching my attention as I squelch through the mud heading over the hill to Helford Passage. It’s not been an exciting or inspiring afternoon, full of the joys of being outdoors, refreshing the mind and body, I think. Or has it? Winter isn’t all crystallised snow scenes, frosty mornings and rosy nose and cheeks from the bright cold air. Sometimes it’s a pause. Damp down the fires. Insulate. Recharge. We too do most of our growing when we sleep.
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a walk the brown of a good loaf, rustic, wholesome, full basic goodness: something like hard work but you always feel better for getting through it. Brown, like winter, is underrated.