Real Gardens: Caerhays

A visit to the beautiful National Collection of magnolias in the gardens of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall.

Awarded National Collection Status in 2001, the grounds at Caerhays contain over 600 magnolias, making it one of the most important collections in the British Isles. The original home of the x williamsii Camellias, Caerhays has many original plants collected in China by the intrepid plant collectors in the early 1900s.

Caerhays with castle A


Nestled in a secluded valley above Porthluney Cove, near St. Austell in Cornwall, the 120 acre gardens at Caerhays Castle are English Heritage Grade II* Listed and one of Britain’s horticultural treasure troves. Historic Caerhays is one of Cornwall’s Great Gardens, a springtime paradise of glorious Camellias, Magnolias and Rhododendrons towering above carpets of delicate Narcissi and Primroses.

Recognising the importance of plant hunters’ work, J C Williams of Caerhays (1862 – 1939) contributed £300,000 (in today’s terms) of his own money towards plant hunter expeditions, as well as joint funding subsequent trips.


In return, Caerhays received a wealth of seed from newly discovered species of Chinese rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias, azaleas, acers and evergreen oaks to mention but a few. A large number of these unique plants can be seen growing in maturity at Caerhays today, as they grow happily alongside more modern hybrids bred by the Williams family, who have been owners of the estate for nearly 150 years.

Most notable of this hybridisation work may still be the original cross between Camellia saluenensis and Camellia japonica in 1923, which produced the truly hardy, free flowering and easy to grow x williamsii strain of camellias. There are now many thousands of varieties of Williamsii hybrid camellias, grown throughout the world. Visitors to the gardens will see some of our latest hybridisation work as well as the ever expanding NCCPG National Magnolia Collection which now numbers around 80 species and over 500 hybrids.


The garden has four woodland walks that meander through magnificent displays of spring flowers; amongst the best in Britain. Giving fantastic views over the estate and grounds, the lake, and out to sea. The garden is not a manicured or planned landscape in the conventional sense, which makes it all the more special – a real natural beauty.

It also has a unique micro-climate. The prevailing and frequently westerly gales rage over the top of the sheltered garden, as sea mists bathe the woodland in moisture and humidity, very similar to  the Chinese mountain habitats from which so many magnolias and rhododendrons originate. Its rich acidic soil also provides the perfect home for these ericaceous beauties.

Home to a National Magnolia Collection, the gardens here at Caerhays are a spring-time wonderland for visitors. More information about Caerhays Estate & gardens can be found here. And you can flick through our ‘Collector’s Item’ post from Caerhays’ magnificent magnolia collection here.



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One Response

  1. David Ellis

    I used to take my grandparents to visit the Caerhays Estate as they lived nearby, this post has brought back some happy memories. Thanks


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