January Garden Update

The start of the New Year has blown in with a whirl and the gardens are fairing well despite the barrage of high winds and storms we have had of late. With the start of a new year, comes the promise of spring and a new season for growth...

On the Farm

It is lining up to be a busy month on the Farm, with the arrival of the new year, we have a few new additions to our rare breed animal family. Heligan will now be home to a delightful one-year old male pedigree Toggenburg goat. His name is Thor and he will be joining our Golden Guernsey goat gang in the Poultry Orchard. Toggenburg goats are a Swiss breed of dairy goat and they were the first alpine goat breed to reach the UK. They have bundles of personality and character and are very alert, not to mention extremely active!

This month we will also welcome a new, registered rare breed, pedigree Berkshire boar to become the breeding partner to our two beautiful Berkshire sows. We hope to hear the pitter patter of piglet trotters this spring, watch this space…

Over the festive period Heligan became holiday home to three handsome donkeys, who have now sadly headed home. However, they have left something behind which will prove unusually valuable to the gardens. Basil, Archie and Rupert were very busy over the festive period and have provided us with lots of wonderful fertiliser for the gardens! The donkey manure has been spread across a section of our Kitchen Garden and will give a healthy boost to the potatoes that now lay beneath it.

For the first time ever here at Heligan, we will be scanning our flock of pregnant ewes live in front of our visitors inside The Barn. One of the ways we can be sure we are doing the right things during pregnancy is to scan our ewes.  We will be scanning our Devon and Cornwall Longwool, Kerry Hill, Jacob and Herdwick ewes to find out how many lambs they are carrying. Knowing how many lambs they are carrying is very important in ensuring that the ewes get the right care and feed routine to help their bodies cope with the extra demands of pregnancy. Make sure you are here early on Sunday 21st January to get a good seat to watch this take place.

January is ‘Love Lop’ Month on the Heligan Home Farm and from the 11th January we will be inviting our visitors to make a visit to The Barn to get to know our British Lop pigs. The British Lop pig is an endangered British breed of pig, with less than 200 breeding sows left. We are proud to breed these impressive pigs and look to raise awareness of their endangered status. The Lops are easily recognisable, they are the pink piggys with the floppy ears that hang in front of their eyes, it’s a wonder how they see anything?!

In the Gardens

Our gardeners are hard at work in the Productive Gardens throughout January as there’s a lot that needs to be done in preparation for 2018’s growing season.  Now is the perfect time to place your rhubarb stems under a forcing pot so you can enjoy an early crop in the spring. This is a gardening practice we use in our Productive Gardens, so we can provide a longer period of rhubarb crop to the Heligan Kitchen. Our rhubarb crowns adjacent to the Apple Arch are being forced using our traditional forcing jars.  We like to avoid forcing the same crowns repeatedly, to ensure the best crop possible, so the pots have been placed over unforced crowns further up the bed.  Whilst you’re here keep a look out for the taller pots towards the middle of the row. When the stems reach the top of the pot they will be ready for harvesting and they should provide us with a paler, more tender stemmed crop -hopefully ready roughly three weeks before the rest of the crop.

Another key task this month is chitting our early varieties of potatoes.   This is done to give them a head start and will hopefully lead to an earlier harvest and slightly better crop.  Ideally potatoes require a light, cool and frost-free location to chit effectively.  An ideal location is a greenhouse, porch or spare room, where they can be left for a few weeks.  If any tubers have more than two or three good sized chits/sprouts, then we tend to rub the excess off to ensure that the subsequent tubers are larger.  We aim to start planting out our first early potatoes in early March.

The team will also be sowing a variety of vegetables, sweet peas and antirrhinums under glass this month. In the cold frames in the Melon Yard some salad crops will be planted as well. Furthermore, seed saved in previous years will be sown into wooden boxes, which will give us an earlier crop of Veitch’s Western Express Peas ready for a Spring planting.

January marks the start of our mushroom growing in the aptly named Mushroom House in the Melon Yard. We have just had the Chestnut mushroom bales delivered and the team are currently prepping them. They will need daily attention to ensure the temperature and humidity is correct to promote good growth and because of this, it won’t be long until large quantities of delicious brown chestnut mushrooms will be making an appearance on Heligan Kitchen’s menu.  This should be in time for early February when you will be able to enjoy them freshly harvested as part of your breakfast or as part of the daily lunch offer. 

This month in the Jungle, the team are excited to be able to plant up the large new bed that was cleared close to Fern Gully at the end of last year to make way for new plantings. The Azaleas are here! The beautiful, already well established, Azaleas will be the key feature for the new beds and will bring a splash of colour to that area of the Jungle come the spring, when The Jungle turns into a vibrant pink and green haven. Make sure you’re here to see it!

The clearing for the new boardwalk has been completed and the fitting of this new boardwalk will take place over the next month or so. This new boardwalk will be positioned close to the top of the Jungle and will link East Lawn entrance with Top Pond and will replace the steps that were the original route. This will give all visitors a new more accessible route for all to explore on their way through the tropical gardens.

In preparation for a new growing season, the beds around the Stewardry are being mulched to keep any weeds at bay, allowing plantings room to grow. In a similar light the brambles around the estate are being strimmed back to make way for a good bluebell display, a woodland highlight in the Heligan estate calendar.



The wildlife spotlight is on the elusive kingfisher for January. The kingfisher arrives at Heligan in September and leaves at the end of February. She can be seen at second pond in the Jungle and over the ponds in the Lost Valley, usually being sighted in the morning between 9.30-11.30am and late afternoon around 15.00-17.00pm. Try and catch a glimpse before she heads off, February will be here in no time at all and she will be gone for the summer!

Our wildlife team managed to capture some footage of our resident kingfisher for you to enjoy

Small fish form the main part of the kingfisher’s diet and they particularly love sticklebacks. The kingfisher will flip the stickleback to swallow it head first so that the spines do not hurt the bird’s throat and this can be seen in recent footage caught on our wildlife cameras.

As well as the presence of the kingfisher in the gardens we have recently seen the arrival of brambling. Brambling, a species that breeds across Scandinavia and Asia, is a winter visitor to the southern and western areas of Europe. They are usually spotted with chaffinches and can be seen visiting the feeders at the hide having a nibble. In other bird news, a Heligan resident buzzard can also be seen foraging for earth worms in Park-an-Lann and the animal paddocks. An impressive sight and one not to be missed but you might have to be patient to see this magnificent bird in flight, as like the kingfisher, buzzards can be elusive.

January is the peak of the mating season for the fox, during this time foxes become very territorial and so when walking around Heligan you may get a distinct smell where the fox has marked its territory. You may even hear their bark or be lucky enough to spot one in the woodland!