xxxxxPicture by Mike Thomas. 31/10/06. Autumn colour at Pine Lodge Gardens near St Austell for the gardens section of the Weekend section. The gardens have been restored by Shirley and Ray Clemo. Pictured .
WHEN Shirley and Ray Clemo moved into their new home back in 1976 it consisted of a modest bungalow, an old orchard and a couple of acres of land containing considerable amounts of mine waste.
They only chose the property because it was situated close to their fruit and vegetable business at nearby Holmbush. Little did they know then that within a few years it would become a magnet for horticultural clubs and plant enthusiasts from around the UK and beyond.
Today, Pine Lodge Gardens, between Par and St Austell, is a paradise for plantsmen, containing an almost unrivalled collection of specimens and offering colour throughout the year – including more than 600 different winter flowering plants. It is now recognised as one of Cornwall's great gardens.
Initially Shirley had no great plans for the site – she simply wanted to prettify an area close to the house. However, her love of gardening grew and grew – as did her ambitions.
"I was always interested in gardening," she said. "But I never envisaged the extent of interest that this piece of land would create."
In the first few years at Pine Lodge Ray's main contribution to the development of the garden was to obtain materials for landscaping.
"Ray was always very imaginative with his love of granite and was able to source all sorts of stone," said Shirley. "One day he arrived home with an enormous bell tower which had been saved from a school. And he also found a pair of lovely spice grinding stones which had been made in Cornwall and used in the East India Docks in London. They still smelled of spices when they were found and now have pride of place in our courtyard."
It was features like these that began to give the garden a real structure, and as their interest grew, the couple began to invest in seed-hunting expeditions in the Far East. They travelled extensively, meeting fellow gardeners and exchanging seeds. It was also around this time that they started holding occasional charity open days.
"In 1987 Ray was a member if of St Austell Lions Club and he was asked to open the garden for charity. To our surprise more than 2,200 people arrived and we were able to hand over a cheque to the St Austell Hospice for £2,800. That was the start – over the years we have raised more than £140,000 for good causes."
In 1993, they acquired a substantial chunk of adjoining farmland and set about excavating a lake. Other projects followed, including a well-stocked pinetum, Japanese garden and deciduous woodland.
Soon afterwards they opened to the public full-time, offering garden-lovers the chance to wander through the various areas and view the collection of some 6,000 varieties of plants
"We're not high profile in the way that Eden and the National Trust gardens are – but we probably have the largest collection of plants in Cornwall," said Shirley. "And unlike other gardens every plant is labelled – one of the many reasons it has become so popular with horticultural societies."
Realising that most Cornish gardens specialise in spring and summer attractions, the Clemos began their winter garden in 2006. It features some 600 varieties from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, including grevillea, correas, 100 silver birches, cornus alba and narcissi.
"It is quite amazing to realise how many plants are available to be grown in the depth of winter," said Shirley.
Sadly, the winter garden will be the couple's last major gardening project at Pine Lodge. Ray has suffered from poor health in recent months, which has led to their reluctant decision to sell. Several potential buyers have already expressed an interest.
However, even though they will no longer own and run the estate they worked on for all those years, Ray and Shirley will still be able to enjoy it.
"We live on the estate and we will help the new people in any way we can. So we will always be able to enjoy the place that has given us more than 30 years of absolute pleasure."
Pine Lodge Gardens open seven days a week and there is a tea room serving drinks and lunches. For more details call 01726 73500 or visit www.pine-lodge.co.uk