Star rating 4.5/5
(I really loved this place and it would have had a 5 star rating if it wasn't for the rough and ready cafe and it's school dinner food. )
In 1990 Tim Smit and John Willis rediscovered these gardens which were overgrown and "lost". Tim Smit is also the brains behind the Eden Project, a much more slick and touristy destination. If you have children and were wondering which was the best option, it's not Helligan.
I enjoyed Helligan so much more than the Eden Project - I loved it's plants and vistas and it's quiet spaces, and the fact that you are left alone with a map and a compass (yep, the free compass is provided when you pay your £10 entrance fee) It's also much better value than the Eden Project as you could happily spend all day wandering around the different areas.
We are fast walkers and managed the whole site (and two visits to the jungle and lost valley) in 4 hours. It's 200 acres in size, but there are stopping points such as the Hide where you can bird spot and watch the mouse cam and owl cam, so you might want the two days the guide suggests!!
We entered via the Woodland Walk which was a mistake as in March as it's not the best first impression. It would have been better to have started in the Northern Gardens and been blown away from the beginning!
Don't forget it's spring and the lush growth has only just begun to emerge.
Left- the beginning. The top pool.
The Northern Gardens
These gardens are a delightful collection of decorative and productive areas. There's lots of small rooms to walk through and plenty to see and admire.
Below: 2 photographs of the Italian Garden with its pool, shady arbour, and colourful pots.
I LOVED this. It's the potting shed, and outside I counted 12 small beds in what looked like very poor stoney soil each surrounded by sunken edging stones. They hold a collection of mint. I've rarely seen so many varieties. This part of the garden is given over to fruit, vegetables and flowers for cutting. It was so pretty, and an absolute joy.
Look at the pots all stacked and ready for use. It must be such a lovely place to be when it's raining outside.
Finally we made our way to the Lost Valley.
At first, you might wonder what the fuss is about, as it looks like any other woodland area, but sit on one of the many little seats dotted here and there and listen to the birdsong, and creatures rummaging in the undergrowth. Very peaceful.
It was a working area for the gardens in centuries past, and the wood was coppiced for charcoal. Charcoal is still burned there and you can see the kilns. The slopes are quite steep in places and sometimes uneven, but easily manageable for your average human!
Also on the site, there is also a plant shop but the plants seemed to have been bought in rather than grown in the gardens so the choice was similar to any garden centre - perhaps a few more varieties of rhododendron and camelia than normal, but sadly I didn't find anything to treat myself to.
The cafe was not brilliant. It was very full with limited seating and the menu was restricted. We had a roast dinner and rhubarb cheesecake. The roast dinner was average and the cheesecake was awful. Never mind, it won't stop me going again, but next time I'll bring sandwiches!
If you've been to Hidcote Garden in the Cotswolds and liked it, you'll like Helligan even more.