One was a Mediterranean courtyard garden created in a disused farmyard, and another was a secluded garden centred around a circular lawn which was once a swimming pool. These were among 13 private gardens which opened their gates to guests last weekend.

Lelant secret gardens
Photographs: St Ives Local

The Secret Gardens of Lelant attracted a steady stream of visitors from the village and beyond. As well as gardens of all styles, shapes, and sizes to explore, there were refreshments — tea, coffee, and delicious home-made cakes on offer at one of the participating gardens — with all proceeds going to Lelant Village Hall.

On a sunny summer Sunday, we collected our tickets and maps from the Badger Inn, and set off to see as many of the gardens as we could.

Some gardens were open for the first time, but Adrian and Sue Brough, who live at the Old Farmhouse in Fore Street, are accustomed to welcoming visitors. For the last two years Sue has been serving her sumptuous home-baked cream teas and cakes in their courtyard garden. It’s a real suntrap, where exotic plants like aeoniums, agaves, and echiums thrive, and are enhanced by displays of potter Adrian’s hand-painted earthenware jugs, dishes and plates.

It’s hard to believe that this was once a farmyard, but Sue and Adrian could see its potential as a Mediterranean-style garden and, 12 years ago, they planted a small olive tree, which is now a large olive tree! There is also now a second olive, and a thriving grapevine. Sue said the grapes are very sweet and make delicious juice.

Sue and Adrian Brough’s Mediterranean-style garden at the Old Farmhouse

Exotic plants are also a feature of Sue Short’s garden in Church Road. The stars of her hot bed are the scarlet blooms of grevillea, and peach-coloured aloe vera flowers. Sue has also planted a herb garden underneath a fountain — so the herbs get plenty of water! And she loves making Christmas garlands, so she has plenty of variegated holly in the garden.

Sue Short’s garden in Church Road

Jenny Walker, who also lives in Church Road, inherited a garden dominated by mature trees 18 years ago, and she has since transformed it into a Victorian-style arts and crafts garden, with classical statues and an abundance of flowers such as hydrangeas and salvias. She’s convinced the ferns which she planted close to her kitchen door are addicted to caffeine — they are certainly growing fast on a diet of coffee grounds!

Jenny Walker’s Victorian-style arts and crafts garden

Tina Kelly’s sloping terraced garden in Vicarage Lane is exposed to sometimes fierce winds, but also enjoys ever-changing views of Hayle Estuary. Her fast-growing tree ferns were moved from her previous garden in Somerset, but they originally came from Cornwall — so she told them she was bringing them back home.

Tina Kelly’s sloping terraced garden

Further along Vicarage Lane is the swimming pool-turned-lawn in Mary and Nick Hayes’ sheltered, sunlit garden. As Mary said, when you live in a waterfront village a stone’s throw from the sea, a swimming pool is not a priority!  

Where there was once a swimming pool, there’s now a beautiful garden at Mary and Nick Hayes’ Vicarage Lane home

It’s always great to talk to garden owners — they’re such a friendly and enthusiastic bunch — but we had to keep the chat to a minimum by the afternoon, to make sure we had time to visit the rest of the Secret Gardens. Two of them, both in Riverside, have impressive sweeping lawns. There are flourishing apple trees in one of the gardens in The Saltings; and fairies perched among the flowers in another Saltings garden. We arrived at garden number 13, in Abbey Hill, just as the clock struck four, but were glad not to miss this rambling cottage garden, where wildflowers bloom among tall grasses.

Roses, hydrangeas, and wildflowers abound in this rambling cottage garden in Abbey Hill

We’re now looking forward to visiting the Secret Gardens of St Ives this weekend! For tickets, click here.