I live on an island. I doubt that anyone living in Great Britain is more than 3 hours drive from the coast. Those wind swept coasts face all the compass points, from the arctic Highlands of Scotland to the warmer seas of the south west, the estuaries and white cliffs of the east. Dotted around the British Isles are gardens, and today I’ve picked two coastal gardens.
On the outer reaches of Cornwall is a small island, St Michael’s Mount, which is accessed via a causeway. The castle on top is home to the St Aubyn family. A grand turreted castle that in part resembles a church in places. Exposed to salt and gales, it’s hardly an ideal location for a garden. But, there is the warming Gulf Stream and the sun baked granite rock faces that heat up the island like a radiator, which is great for preventing frosts. The terraces with their acidic well-drained soils host unlikely plants including aloe and agave, which usually thrive in drier climates. There are walled gardens and granite hotspots that cook the garden at a 40C in the summer.
In 1780, four daughters of Sir John initiated the building of a red-bricked wall garden, including a tranquil summerhouse. In Victorian times, the east and west terraces were added. All kinds of heat loving plants grow on the hillsides including erythrina, a member of the pea family, and Africa native, the Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia. These plants were brought in from Mexico and South Africa, so definitely not what you’d imagine surviving on the blustery coast of Cornwall. If St Michael’s Mount is an idyllic haven, then what about the rain swept coast of Wales. Is it possible to turn a cove into a little part of Italy?
Portmeiron is not just a garden landscape, it’s a village. Made famous by the 1960s TV series The Prisoner and its pottery too. It is also a colourful hotchpotch of terraces, gardens and a wooded headland with hidden lakes.
Portmeiron’s creator Sir Clough William Ellis wanted to bring the Italian Mediterranean coastline to Wales. The climate might not match, it rained during our visit, but its distinctive architecture is unique to the UK.
The steep inclines favours both palm, yuccas and azaleas. The first plantings began in Victorian times under the gardener Henry Seymour Westmacott. He created the borders, small lakes and formal gardens. Years later Portmeiron is a major tourist attraction with boutiques and galleries.
The west coast of the UK benefits from Gulf Stream, which brings warm water across the Atlantic Ocean, even as far as the west cost of Scotland. Without this belt travelling around the world, Britain’s climate would be considerably colder in the Winter, up to 5C cooler and more like Canada. If the Gulf Stream shifts or weakens, our long term climate could change dramatically.
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