100 Seconds – Gone to Soldiers 5/05/21

My Journey to the Lost Garden of Heligan, Cornwall, England

There once was a place, a lost garden, that evokes Pete Seeger’s poignant song about the never-ending waste of human lives we call war:

“Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”

There once was a family called Tremayne, who owned an estate of almost 1,000 acres in rural Cornwall, where they lived for over four hundred years. They employed a large staff of gardeners and laborers who built and tended a magical garden. Those men joined up to fight in the bloodbath called WW1. The house was converted to a soldier’s convalescent hospital, then sold for apartments. Gradually the garden itself was buried under brambles and fallen masonry walls, even the fact of its existence was almost wiped from memory.

Then, in 1990, the last Tremayne heir and a garden enthusiast discovered a tiny hidden room. A motto was etched onto the limestone wall, barely legible in pencil, which read: “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber”, with the names of those who worked there, signed with the date of August 1914. Only six of the large staff survived, the rest lay buried in some Flanders field.

A dedicated team of a national charity restored the Tremayne gardens of 200 acres for the enjoyment of wildlife and plant lovers worldwide, complete with a mud head, Victorian kitchen garden, rope bridge, pleasure ground, and jungle with majestic tree ferns, giant rhubarb and bananas, which thrive in the micro-climate of Cornwall.

Let me take you there.

Open the secret door again and marvel at Heligan’s beauties, but think too of what was lost and unrecoverable. All my life I have wondered this, when will we ever learn?

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