I was determined not to compromise what’s supposed to be a relaxing break, so I left binoculars, cameras and books back at the Potwell Inn and came down to Heligan with nothing more than a mobile, a notebook and a pen. When we set out on a walk in the sunshine this morniing I lasted about six paces at proper ‘going for a walk’ speed before I noticed the abundance of rather early wildflowers and that was that. At best I’m an indifferent botanist, and so identifying the most ordinary things takes an age but, on the other hand, I like the ordinary. So there were mouse ear, bluebell, red campion, herb Robert, violet, celandine and wood anemone, all growing within a small area and there were many more, including primroses, marsh marigolds and little spurges. I had to stop. Heligan has a series of different habitats and attractions and today we spent most of our time in the woodlands.
Yesterday I forgot to take the camera and so I couldn’t photograph the navelwort – or pennywort as it’s also known; its Latin name is Umbilicus rupestris, and there were several noteworthy facts we found out. Firstly I’ve always seen it on walls and never looked for it anywhere else, but here it’s quite common at the bottom of tree trunks. Secondly its succulent leaves are apparently good to eat and thirdly if you scrape the back of the leaf off it exudes a sap that has healing, coagulant properties and will – if you care to try – adhere to your skin like a natural elastoplast. Isn’t that fascinating?
Back at the veg garden we made a list of the 23 varieties of potato they’re growing this year. Yesterday’s tour leader talked a little about these heritage potatoes and said that although they all tasted good, they were tricky to cook correctly and if overcooked they would become waterlogged and collapse. Many of these varieties, regardless of their quality, are not on the EU permitted list and so cannot be sold. We’re growing three of their varieties this year on the allotment, along with two more modern cultivars. But we really envied the space they have here to experiment. After we’d finished the list we sat enviously in front of their rhubarb patch. Again, so much space – and yesterday we tasted rhubarb in a way I’ve never even thought of – in a salad. I suspect it was very lightly ‘fridge pickled’ and we both thought it was delicious – time for an experiment in the Potwell Inn kitchen. I think the starting point for us will be a poaching liquid with raspberry vinegar, water and a little salt, brought to the boil and simply poured over the sliced rhubarb. I’ll report back later.
Then we moved on to the apples where we had a good look at the pruning method they’re using here. It looked very like the Modified Lorette ststem that we last saw in the National Trust gardens at Dyrham Park. It involves cutting back very hard in the winter and then again in the summer. It’s not a system either of us knows but it looks very productive. The gardener at Dyrham Park said it was very slow to establish but, on the other hand it seems capable of sustaining excellent crops. So much to learn! So many lists!