If you find yourself in Cornwall on New Year's Day, it's a great opportunity to attend the Lost Gardens of Heligan Open Day. Admission is free, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation to this year's nominated charities.

If you are not familiar with this unique garden, let me tell you why this has become one of my all-time favourite days out in Cornwall. At the beginning of the 20th century the Heligan Estate had beautifully established gardens with exotic bamboos, palms and other tender plantings brought in from all over the world and established in the sheltered valley. The family and staff lived well off the walled kitchen gardens which had pineapple pits, melon pits and greenhouses for producing tropical fruits.

Unfortunately, many of the gardeners who had tended the area for so long were called up to fight in the Great War, and the majority never returned. The serious shortage of manpower, both during and after World War I meant that the gardens were left to overgrow and were all but forgotten.

Heligan is Cornwall's Sleeping Beauty

Record producer and future founder of the Eden Project, Tim Smit, was flying over the area in the early 1990s and saw the extraordinary sight of palm trees and bamboos in a tangled jungle below. Further enquiries led him to explore the overgrown bramble-woven greenery. A small room was discovered above the old potting shed and written on one of the walls were the words, 'Don't come here to sleep or slumber'. Next to this were the names of the gardeners who worked there with the date of August 1914 quite visible.

This seemed to set the wheels in motion for a large group of volunteers to set about restoring these magnificent gardens to their former glory. The Lost Gardens of Heligan now attracts visitors from all over the world due to the wonderful experience that awaits.

The price is right on Heligan's New Year Open Day

On New Year's Day there is no charge for entry to the Lost Gardens of Heligan but it is hoped that everyone will see fit to make a small donation of at least £2 towards this year's charity. When you take into consideration that the usual entrance fee for an adult is well over a tenner, it is not difficult to see why this charitable Open Day is so popular with the general public.

At this time of the year The Lost Gardens of Heligan really can be described as a winter wonderland. Come dressed for walking as you will definitely want to explore the Jungle, Flora's Green, the Italian Garden and walk down the Ride to the Lost Valley and the Charcoal Kilns.

Where to eat at the Lost Gardens of Heligan Open Day

Visitors to Heligan on New Year's Day will no doubt be interested in a bite to eat at lunch time and the Tearoom there is very good indeed. It has won various awards over the past few years. The onsite Heligan Bakery produces all sorts of cakes and bread which many visitors buy to take home with them as well being available in the licensed Tearoom.

Before leaving, do take a look at the pictures of the well documented progress that has been made to make these historic gardens available for the general public. It is a truly inspiring project and a wonderful success story. It just goes to show what can be achieved when a group of passionate volunteers work together for a cause they truly believe in.

Have you visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan before? Did it leave you amazed by how gardens such as this could have been left neglected for so many years? Do you know of any other secret gardens which our readers would find interesting?