Book Review: The Parks and Gardens of Cornwall, by Douglas Ellory Pett

There is a special magic in crossing the Tamar and visiting parks and gardens which are both part of the English gardening tradition and quite un-English in their character and setting.

Cornwall’s sense of isolation and independence is apparent as much in the distinctiveness of its gardens as in any other aspect of its culture. To the outsider, while intriguingly exotic, Cornish gardening can seem inscrutable at first. When first advising National Trust gardens in Cornwall 25 years ago, I would have given a lot for a book like this.

With such a rich horticultural background and a history of garden-making stretching back to medieval times, a comprehensive county survey is a tall order.

Douglas Pett writes for the observant garden visitor as well as the serious historian. The book is vigorous and exhaustive, yet always readable and engaging.

The most complete garden inventory for any English county, this is a work of great scholarship , with descriptions of 440 sites based mainly on published material, meticulously referenced. All this is backed by introductory accounts of the county’s geology and soil, climate and garden history, with a separate chapter on deer parks.

The core and great strength of this remarkable book consists of illustrated accounts of Cornwall’s parks and gardens past and present, arranged in districts centred on the principal towns.

Each begins with the derivation of its name and concise details of location, topography, soil, climate, historical sources, official designation, status and opening arrangements.

So many guides tell you what you can see for yourself; this one will enrich many a visit by setting a garden in its physical, historical and horticultural context, leaving the visitor to discover the place for himself.

It is a great achievement to collate and digest such an amount of published material. The book sets a new standard for county surveys of parks and gardens and will remain for many years ‘the’ work for anyone seriously interested in Cornish gardens.