GO – TREBAH GARDEN – Good God.When I consider the melancholy fate of so many of botany’s votaries, I am tempted to ask whether men are in their right mind who so desperately risk life and everything else through the love of collecting plants.
It was Charles Fox, a Quaker, who acquired it in 1838 and turned the estate into the gem it is today. The Foxes, who part owned tin mines and pilchard fisheries, were shipping agents and were able to import exotic plants, many of which had never been grown in Britain before.
It was this zeal for collecting plants that initially inspired my third novel, The Naked Name of Love, which is about a Jesuit priest, Joseph Jacobs, who travels to Outer Mongolia in search of rare flora and fauna (and then falls in love!).
Charles Fox’s brother, Robert, created the gardens at Penjerrick and was friends with plant collector, Sir Joseph Hooker, who brought many of the rhododendrons still growing at Trebah today. Fellow plant hunter, Ernest Wilson, found the regal lily in China; it’s this flower that is, in part, the inspiration for the lily Joseph is desperate to find in The Naked Name of Love.
“High up on the mountainside and precipice this Lily in full bloom greets the weary wayfarer. Not in twos and threes but in hundreds, in thousands, eye, in tens and thousands…The air in the cool of the morning and in the evening is laden with delivious perfume exhaled from every blossom. For a brief season this Lily transforms a lonely, semi-desert region into a veritable fairyland.”
Wilson followed in the footsteps of another plant collector, Pere Armand David, who ‘discovered’ the exquisite handkerchief tree in China. There is one flowering at Trebah right now. David kept a diary that I used as the most crucial part of my research on what it was like to travel to Outer Mongolia in 1856!
As for Trebah today, it is well worth a visit, not just for its fabulous plants, but because it has a jungle gym for little ones (with a woodpecker nesting in the sculpture in the middle of it) and a private beach that sells wonderful ice cream and good coffee!