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My first 20 years as Head Gardener

Arriving here from Tregothnan in 2002 preparing to take over from Michael Taylor in 2004 was daunting to say the least! 

I was to become only the third ever Head Gardener at Trewithen. Jack Skilton began his career as a "Rook Scarer", a real life scarecrow! He went on to become gardener then Head Gardener. Jack was one of the first recipients of the RHS "Long Service" medal first for 40 years then 50, then 60 continuous service from 1904 to 1963.  

In 1964 Michael Taylor took over after working at Bodnant gardens and then went on to receive the RHS "Long service" medal in 2003 also the RHS "Associate of Honour" award.

Then 2004 and my reign begins....

My first 20 years...

With Jack planting and creating what we see today as the "woodland garden" and Michael maintaining it and adding to the collection, I have had the task of embellishing, improving and expanding the "Gardens". It was 12 hectare (30 acres) in 2004 and now with recent developments covers more than 36 hectares (90 acres).


Jack Skilton Head Gardener from 1904 to 1963


Michael Taylor Head Gardener from 1964 to 2003

Endean Bay laurel hedge

The whole garden was divided up using "Cherry Laurel" (Prunus laurocerasus) as high hedging. I gradually reduced then removed the vast majority to allow both light and air into the garden plus open up long lost vistas. This work has had a profound effect on the whole atmosphere of the garden going from dark and overgrown, to light and airy.

Sycamore avenue

Sycamore Avenue 2008

IMG 1977

Sycamore Avenue 2024

The expansion of the garden took in an area south west of the main woodland garden which we call "The Water Gardens". This is a valley with a stream and was our original "Pleasure Grounds"  Up stream we renovated "Eagle Ponds" which first appeared on the Hawkins Landscape plan of 1747. We have taken in and cleared a woodland area "Trebilcock Woods" and installed "Treehenge" using chestnut tree trunks felled in the 1990 gales.

Lower eagle pond before

Lower Eagle ponds during construction 2019

Lower eagle pond after

Lower Eagle ponds completed 2020

Treehenge site pre clearing

Trebilcock woods 2012

Trebilcock Treehenge 2021 13

"Treehenge" in Trebilcock woods 2021

Li River hi res

Two trips to China

I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to China in 2007 looking at Camellia species in the south East from Shanghai all the way down to Guilin. Then, in 2012, I visited Yunnan province in South West China to follow the route of the great plant hunter George Forrest and attend the International Camellia Society congress where I received the "ICS Garden of Excellence" award on behalf of Trewithen.

China 2012 10th 010

Gary collecting the ICS "Garden of Excellence" award

China 2012 6th 015

Camellia lined streets during the congress 2012

Hawkins landscape plan

Using the Hawkins Landscape Plan of 1747 as inspiration, we drew up a Master Plan for the gardens and parks in 2018. This document is the working basis for projects going forward.

The "Vista" radiating from the south side of the house needed addressing. Originally a tree lined avenue that drifted south west over the centuries due to successive plantings and weather events, storms felling trees, meant the avenue effect was lost. Being very brave and with the help from nature in the "Beast from the East" weather front of sub zero temperatures and high winds we "lost" 5 mature beech trees which helped open up the vista. I set about a complete lawn restoration programme of works and invested in a new cylinder mower, with the end result being a striped lawn vista from the south side of the house.

Main lawn resized
Master plan draft march 2018 5

Master Plan working document and the future

Working with the Master plan as inspiration, I am expanding the gardens in all directions. To the North we have completed a "Queens Green Canopy" woodland of establishment planting. To the West we have included "Big downs" a 12 hectare (30 acre) field into my cultivated "Garden" area. Here we have landscaped the field to include clumps of native trees, and will establish meadow plantings and install a "Stone circle" plus outdoor amphitheatre.

To the south I intend on planting an "Ornamental cherry orchard" 

To the south west I will renovate an historic Hazel plantation .

The Estate intends to restore our "Home Farm" buildings which will give me a walled kitchen garden to restore and replant alongside new workshops and propagating facilities.


All this should keep me busy until I get my RHS "long service medal" (half way there already!)