St Ives Local’s Liz Norbury takes a trip around some St Ives gardens never usually open to the public, opened in aid of charity.

Gardens Albert Place

It’s been three years since the last Secret Gardens of St Ives event, but after two pandemic summers gardeners across the town were once again able to invite visitors to drop in for a tour earlier this month — and some owners laid on tea and cake as well. It was all in a good cause: proceeds went to St Ives Community Fund, a charitable trust which supports local people in need.

The trail linking the 12 gardens led us down back lanes to tiny floral havens hidden between terraced townhouses, and spacious places with rolling lawns, herbaceous borders and giant trees. We had a lovely afternoon, filming all the gardens — you can watch Ed Norbury’s video here — and chatting to their owners.

Tamsyn Williams’ garden in Bellair Terrace. Photographs: St Ives Local

Among them was Tamsyn Williams, one of St Ives Community Fund’s trustees, whose small, secluded garden in Bellair Terrace is home to masses of wild, self-seeded plants, along with a mature weeping birch, and a fig tree which looks set to produce abundant fruit later in the summer — if the birds don’t get there first. In this lush, restful paradise, red hot pokers aren’t welcome — Tamsyn told us she’s not keen on red plants, and she pulls them up whenever they put in an appearance in the cracks in the patio paving!

Marina Haegeli’s Ayr garden

Marina Haegeli – who worked closely with Tamsyn on the organisation of Secret Gardens — decided to open her garden this year after being inspired by visiting the gardens which were open in 2019. Marina describes herself as a beginner, but there’s no doubt that she has a natural flair for gardening. The upper level of her garden in the Ayr neighbourhood features bright splashes of floral colour — such as Californian poppies and pelargoniums — around sweeping lawns, while the lower level is dedicated to pollinators and features a luxury bug hotel. Squirrels enjoy scampering around the garden, and Marina doesn’t even mind when they hide their nuts among her plants.

Celia and Colin Orchard’s garden

Marina, who is from Zurich, moved to St Ives five years ago. Her neighbours, Celia and Colin Orchard, have lived in their house for 40 years, and they’ve been told that it probably dates from the 16th century. They’ve gone for an informal planting style, with mature shrubs, honeysuckle and fuchsia, and like Marina, they’ve set aside an uncultivated area for wildlife, overlooked by an apple tree, where black mustard, nasturtiums and nettles have freedom to spread.

Win Cothey’s Bowling Green Terrace garden

Win Cothey is another long-standing St Ives resident — she’s lived in Bowling Green Terrace since 1984. At the age of 94, Win’s passion for gardening is as strong as ever, and in the days leading up to Secret Gardens of St Ives she was busy deadheading and tidying to make sure her garden looked its best. Ferns thrive in this small, lush space, which also features Victoria plum and crab apple trees and a variety of plants in shades of pinks and purples. Goldfinches are regular and welcome visitors.

Glyn and Jane Walton’s sheltered Albert Road garden

Glyn and Jane Walton’s garden is in a sheltered spot in Albert Road, although, as Glyn told us, ‘sheltered’ isn’t the first word which springs to mind when the occasional 50mph gale blasts through the garden. In fact, his prized collection of green and black aeoniums was destroyed by the Beast from the East in 2018 and he had to restock, but four years on, the new plants are thriving. The aeoniums, with their waxy rosette-shaped leaves, are not the only striking architectural feature in the garden — there’s also an impressive tetrapanax tree, kept in a container. Glyn says that if it was planted in the borders, it would run riot! Around the garden, roses climb the fences, euphorbias bring in the bees, and nasturtiums self-seed.

Trees abound in Naomi Frears’ garden

In Naomi Frears’ garden, hidden behind the Stennack, formal box hedges provide structure, around which ferns and echiums reach for the sky. Over the years, Naomi has planted more than 20 trees in a garden which was once just a path with jagged rocks on either side. One of them is an Egremont Russet apple, which did so well last year that Naomi had to give it quite a drastic prune, so she isn’t expecting many apples this year. Her biggest challenge is bindweed, which gets everywhere — every day she discovers new strands which have to be pulled out.

The community garden at the Stennack Surgery

Nearby is the developing garden outside the Stennack Surgery — a community project designed to create a space for reflection and community engagement. This sensory garden currently has three themed raised beds: one focuses on colour, another on edible plants, and the third on ‘touchy-feely’ species. There are two beds still to be planted, and we were told that one will be a herb bed.

A mini-rain forest in Carthew Terrace

Crossing the Stennack, we went up the hill to Carthew Terrace, where the sheltered courtyard of a Victorian terraced house has unexpectedly developed into a mini-rain forest, with giant palms and bamboo.

Magnificent views from above Barnoon

High above Barnoon, and enjoying sunshine and magnificent views, is another house dating from the 19th century, which was once two fishermen’s cottages. Features of the Mediterranean-style courtyard are olive trees, hydrangeas, olive trees, and agapanthus.

A sheltered, tiny studio garden

Just off Tregenna Terrace, there’s a steep climb to a tiny studio garden, where it is not unknown for wind to whisk sand up from the beaches far below. Fortunately, fuchsias and ferns take the conditions in their stride, and beyond the garden, three mature sycamores provide some shelter from the occasional blast.

A lawned spot in Higher Trewidden Road

In Higher Trewidden Road, we strolled across a wide lawn surrounded by an abundance of cottage garden plants, apple trees, and very tall pines.

The most secret garden? A tiered plot with a hidden pond and panoramic views

And in the heart of St Ives, in Bedford Road, we found what is surely the most secret garden of all. Behind a small gate, steps snake up through a lush and dramatic tiered garden with a hidden pond. From the street, you’d never know it was there. At the viewing deck at the top, visitors enjoyed panoramic views across the bay — and mini-quiches and wine. Let’s raise a glass to the Secret Gardens of St Ives!

Take a look around the secret gardens of Lelant.