October 2015 | The Garden 7574 The Garden | October 2015
Cornish church garden
The serene church gardens at St Just in Roseland, west Cornwall, are filled with exotic plants from Australia and are a reminder of a significant era in plant collectingAuthor: Matthew Biggs, gardener, writer and member of the RHS Woody Plant Committee. Photography: Tim Sandall
In a tranquil spot beside a tidal creek in Cornwall sits 13th-century St Just in Roseland Church, surrounded by beautiful subtropical gardens. Sentiments of visitors are encapsulated by English poet, writer and broadcaster Sir John Betjeman when he
described the grounds of St Just in Roseland as being to many people the most beautiful churchyard on earth, in his Shell Guide, Cornwall (1964).
Horticultural historyThe story begins with James Garland Treseder (sometime apprentice of plant collector William Lobb) who established Treseders Nursery at Moresk near Truro in 1839. James had three sons John, Thomas and Charles. In 1857, the brothers left for Australia to seek their fortunes prospecting for gold, but they soon found that growing and selling vegetables was a more reliable way to make a profit. John returned to Cornwall for a period of time to take
over his fathers nursery, but later returned to settle in Australia. During this second sojourn, John flourished he owned three nurseries, a shop and warehouse, designed gardens throughout New South Wales and Victoria, and exported seeds worldwide.
In 1895, James Garland Treseder died; Australia suffered an economic downturn at that time. John returned to Cornwall, leaving his sons to close his business and arrange the export of Australasian plants to the UK. As the nursery
in Moresk was a frost pocket, John began searching for land on which to grow tender plants. He found a site adjacent to the church at St Just in Roseland, which he leased from the rector. Plants thrived in the sheltered humid conditions but, after almost 25 years, the nursery there was disbanded when a proposed railway branch line to St Mawes failed to materialise. In 1925 the gardens were taken over by Frank Collins of Portscatho, who worked there until after the Second World War when the Church took over the land to use for burials.
As well as parishioners and pilgrims, the church of St Just in Roseland attracts visitors with it beautiful, exotic plantings.
St Justs churchyard todayFragments of John Treseders nursery beds still remain behind the church, where cool, shadowy paths meander among vegetative icons of the Victorian era. There are ancient specimens of plants introduced commercially by William Lobb, including Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle) bristling with branches almost to the base; Luma apiculata with pretty white flowers and honeyed bark; and Crinodendron hookerianum decked in spring with cherry-red lanterns. A stately Rhododendron arboreum with slender leaves and pink flowers looks magnificent alongside camellias in spring. The flowering specimens stand among a rich palette of evergreens and bamboos, including Fargesia murielae and Sasa veitchii.
In damp, shady places, Asplenium scolopendrium (harts tongue fern) grows on mossy cloths overlaying table-top tombs, while mat-forming perennial Soleirolia soleirolii creeps along Cornish granite steps and Athyrium filix-femina makes itself at home in
clumps, softening the hard edges of gravestone, path and rail. This is an area with a peaceful ambience and great sense of antiquity.
At the edge of the churchyard, by the creek, Acanthus mollis carpets the ground among Celtic crosses and a huge stand of Gunnera manicata flourishes. A fashionable plant at the time, and in great demand, this would have once been supplied to estates throughout the southwest and sometimes even further afield.
While in Australia, on an expedition into the Blue Mountains, John became enamoured with Dicksonia antarctica, for which Treseders nursery became world famous. He found that specimens scorched by bushfires could be revived by soaking in water for several days. John also recognised the similarity between the climates and believed the tree ferns would survive outdoors in mild, maritime Cornwall. He became the first to import tree ferns to Britain and wrote to several estate owners, asking them to try them in cultivation; many accepted.
St Just in Roseland Church, Cornwall is a 13th-century building (far left) but its heritage dates back to the sixth century. As John Garland Treseder predicted in 1895, when he set up nursery beds next to the churchyard, its sheltered creekside setting (centre, top) is perfectly suited to Australian native plants that still thrive in the church grounds.
Many subtropical plants have naturalised, adding to the gardens peaceful feel. Ferns spore freely, growing among aged headstones and graves (left and centre, bottom).
76 The Garden | October 2015
Cornish church garden
In this garden they enhance the sense of the subtropical by self-sporing among the graves.
The signature plant in the churchyard is Trachycarpus fortunei a palm synonymous with Victorian gardens which was planted and allowed to self-seed. There are now multitudes in dense groups, forming guards of honour along pathways, as well as more-recent plantings framing the church, intent on maintaining their magic in perpetuity.
Extending the gardens In 1984, under the supervision of Neil Treseder (Johns grandson), an extension to the churchyard garden included serene ponds and a rill running between the gravestones and trees to the creek. Across the road, Neil designed and planted a memorial garden using narrow paths and specimen plants, which reflects the spirit of the churchyard below and offers views over the treetops and church tower to the creek and beyond. The memorial garden now commemorates those whose ashes are interred there.
Recent plantings in the gardens include Leptospermum Silver Sheen with white flowers and striking silvery leaves; Olearia x scilloniensis, a spontaneous white-flowered hybrid found at Tresco Abbey Gardens around 1910; and a specimen of Callistemon viminalis with bright red flowers. A Taxus baccata, grown from a cutting of a 2,000-year-old specimen at Staunton,
Joseph of ArimatheaThere is a legend that a tin merchant called Joseph of Arimathea came to Cornwall to trade, bringing with him the boy Jesus, who talked to religious leaders. They landed at St Just Pool on the River Fal that, even before Jesus visit, was a sacred place. A stone with indecipherable carvings, said to be the stone on which Jesus stepped from the boat, still remains. Near to the church is St Justs well, a medieval holy well, often visited by walkers and pilgrims.
Gloucestershire, was planted on Good Friday in the year 2000 to celebrate the third Christian millennium.
Such is the popularity of its picturesque location that the churchyard is being extended again, a project due to start soon. James Treseder of Wallcottage Nursery, great-great-grandson of James Garland Treseder, will supply some of the plants. The aim is to reflect the atmosphere of the ancient churchyard of St Just in Roseland in a beautiful garden dotted with unusual plants and year-round interest.
Sir Frances Bacon (15611626), the great writer and philosopher, penned these words of a churchyard, God Almighty first planted a garden and indeed it is the purest of human pleasures; such pleasures are amply reflected in this tranquil churchyard garden.
VISITINGSt Just in Roseland Parish Church, Church Hill, St Just in Roseland, Truro TR2 5JD.Church & gardens normally open all year, 8amdusk.Entry free; there are collection points in the church for donations.Website: stjustin roselandchurch.co.uk
The tranquil gardens at St Just in Roseland are home to many Australasian plants. Gunnera manicata (far left) flourishes in the sheltered and humid conditions and Acanthus mollis (left) produces prolific spires of flowers. Trachycarpus fortunei (above) stand guard.