Camellias and Cornwall have been enjoying each other’s company for almost 200 years, and their end-of-winter blooms herald the start of the Cornish garden season. On the Tregothnan estate, however, the species camellia C. sinensis, has been planted for more than its ornamental value: it’s harvested (rather romantically, at dawn during the summer months) for tea. The thinking was this: for centuries in cool, damp, hilly regions of China and India, the growing tips and buds of this obliging species have been picked and carefully dried to make tea; why should not this favoured corner of Cornwall, with its microclimate so like the foothills of the Himalayas, produce tea of equal value? The first tentative experiments were made at Tregothnan in 2000 and proved so successful that you now see the Tregothnan label all over Cornwall and even in Waitrose.
Three culinary experts from Darjeeling were being filmed among the rows of tea bushes in the old walled garden when I last visited, their bright saris looking a little incongruous against the glittering backdrop of the Fal.
You can take a private tour of the gardens which takes three hours and reveals a botanic collection of exhilarating diversity, assembled by several generations of Boscowans whose seat this has been for the past 600 years and the current garden director, Jonathan Jones. Each tour concludes as you might expect with a pot of home-grown tea (it is very good) and scones in an Edwardian summerhouse at the head of aglade fringed with giant rhododendrons. The spring weekend when the gardens open for charity is very popular and tickets are snapped up quickly.