A Look at Cornwall (6): Saint Michael’s Mount Part 2: The Terrace Gardens

The Terrace Gardens at St Michael’s Mount adorn the steep granite slopes on the south-eastern side of the island. Today the gardens attract 65 thousand visitors a year from April to September – the number of days they’re open being restricted to safeguard them from too much erosion. The gardens are carefully and lovingly tended by the head gardener, Lottie Allen and her team of three.

To many visitors, it may seem strange that these beautiful gardens exist at all in such a location. The steep granite cliffs, with the sea thrashing against the shore beneath and the brisk, salty winds and harsher gales – make it an unlikely place for any type of garden. Yet that is far from the truth. Gardens cover 12 of the island’s 21 acres.

The waters of the Gulf Stream moderate the climate so that frosts are rare and the granite rocks of the cliffs act like a great radiator, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night:

Bare granite cliffs of the isle

This creates a micro climate in which a variety of plants flourish. Abundant blooms and exotic plants have thrived here since 1780: aloes, agapanthus, puya, agave, rosemary, cornilla and lavender – amongst a whole host of others – fill the gardens with texture, shape and colour. Winding paths and stone steps lead visitors on a wonderful journey of exploration along which cameras continuously click. As did ours.

So how did these unusual gardens come about?

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post yesterday, the castle has been owned by the St Aubyn family since 1659. It is thought that, in 1780, the four Misses St Aubyn of that time initiated the building of the Walled Garden, a delightful and relatively sheltered space for the family to enjoy. Today it is positioned between the East and West Terraces, which were created during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The gardens as we see them today were designed in 1987 by Michael Paul Harvey along with Lord St Levan, who died in 2013. (Lord Levan was grandfather to the current castle resident, James St Aubyn.) The development of the gardens are still under the guidance of Michael Paul Harvey.

These are a few more of the dozens of photos we took that day.

Naturally, all visitors are advised regarding the safety aspects of visiting the gardens. As it says on the leaflet, ‘A guide to the Gardens‘:

There are steep drops from the lawns down to the rocks below as well as significant drops within the garden. The paths and steps are steep, rocky and uneven and in some places there are no handrails…. Sensible footwear is essential…. Please see that children are supervised at all times… Please do not handle the plants or pick the flowers as some may be hazardous to health… Dogs are not allowed in the garden… People with limited mobility or significant health problems will find the terrain challenging…

Much of that information may seem like common sense to most people, but I think the warnings are excellent and an important reminder to those about to embark on a walk round these wonderful gardens.

There is so much more I could have said about Saint Michael’s Mount, as even two posts haven’t really done it justice. All I can say is that we enjoyed our visit immensely and learned a lot about this lovely isle.

22 thoughts on “A Look at Cornwall (6): Saint Michael’s Mount Part 2: The Terrace Gardens

    1. What a lovely comment, Holly. It is a beautiful place and it was nice and sunny by the time we were in the gardens in the afternoon. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, too! 😀

    1. Hi Jay! I didn’t realise here was a Cornwall in Canada, so I’ve learned something from your comment. Thanks for that! I know we have lots of names in common, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s funny but my husband and I long to get over to Canada. The scenery looks spectacular. 🙂

  1. I remember now – the gardens were closed for building work when I was there. I could only see them from high up on the Mount. Maybe I’ll try again this year and try to get some lovely photos like yours 🙂

    1. The gardens are really pretty, Ali, and it’s easy to take nice photos of such colourful things. Louise has hundreds of photos of different plants (no exaggeration). She clicks away like crazy with her camera. Nick and I also have dozens more. I hope you’ll post your pics on your blog. 🙂

  2. Beautiful photos! It’s amazing that the plants benefit from the heat of the stones as well as the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream has been keeping us cold here lately, but it’s just starting to warm up a bit. I’d love to just sit in that garden all day and soak the heat up like a plant.

  3. In Britain, as in much of Western Europe, we owe a lot to the Gulf Stream – or more correctly at this stage, the North Atlantic Drift – for keeping our western coasts warmer than expected for the latitude. It was interesting to hear that the Gulf Stream has been keeping your region of Massachusetts cooler for the time of year. I’ve never looked at the current’s effects elsewhere (slaps wrist at this point). 😀
    Yes, the granite makes a great radiator! The cliffs on the isle really do warm up well. Perhaps we should have a few slabs or it in our own garden. Seriously though, thank you for the nice comment, Sheila, and for making me think (a rare occurrence since I retired from teaching!).

  4. This is a really interesting, and beautiful, place. So many weird and wonderful plants. I need to go again – not happy with my photos, particularly having seen yours! 🙂

    1. I’d happily go again to many sites in Cornwall, Mike. So many places there are stunning and perfect for photographing. We didn’t do the Eden Project last year as it was one of the main things we did the previous time. We need another visit, though, for some decent photos. Lovely weather also helps to get good photos and (if it doesn’t rain) Cornwall has lovely sunny days.

  5. And how I enjoyed this visit! Thank you for bringing me there and showing all its beauty! Falling in love!

  6. I especially enjoyed these two posts. The garden is amazing. Now that Big Creek is finally published, it is nice to return to the blogs I love, yours most of all.

  7. Thank you, Dinata! I’m very late responding to your comment as I’m away from home this week (collecting lots of photos and information for more blog posts to add to my already enormous list!). How great to hear that Big Creek is now published. I know you were publishing it the traditional way but I’ll have a look on Amazon in case you have it listed there. If not, I’d really appreciate you letting me know where I can get a copy from. Congratulations, anyway!

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