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A landmark resurrected

Heligan: A Portrait of the Lost Gardens Tom Petherick, photographs by Melanie Eclare Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $29.95

September 23, 2004|Lili Singer

In his introduction, restoration project founder Tim Smit calls Heligan Manor -- an abandoned and mysterious Cornwall estate with legendary gardens -- "our Sleeping Beauty" that "shrugged off its blanket of decay." Richly illustrated and passionately penned, this chronicle of Heligan's rediscovery and rebirth proves the power of community and the resilience of plants.

Working from photographs and shared memory, local citizens, including the author and photographer, spurred Heligan's restoration -- the largest of its kind in Europe's history -- and captured the heart of British gardeners.

Ten years on, the once-decrepit landscape brims with organically grown vegetables and glasshouse fruits; flowers for cutting; Alpine, Italian and New Zealand gardens; and a rescued primeval jungle thick with exotic tree ferns, bamboos, palms and gunneras, which have leaves the size of patio umbrellas. (This pocket of southwestern England is surprisingly sheltered and relatively warm.)

The book's final section describes "the Wider Heligan" surrounding acreage, which harbors rare-breed livestock, orchards and a bird sanctuary. Returned to 19th century glory, lovingly documented and now open to the public, the gardens at Heligan are gorgeous, self-sustaining and an asset to the countryside, just as they were then.



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