Zennor Weather and Gardening
Cornwall is known worldwide for its mild and moist climate due to the warming waters of the North Atlantic Drift. Pockets of sheltered microclimate, usually on the south coast, have allowed many renowned formal gardens to flourish; Trebah, Glendurgan, Caerhays, Trelissick, Heligan and Eden are some of the most well known. Near Penzance and therefore only a stone’s throw from Zennor you will find the contrasting Trengwainton and Tremenheere with Trewidden a little further away at Buryas Bridge.
Zennor Parish lies on the wild, exposed northern coastal belt and regularly receives the full impact of the prevailing south westerly winds which batter their way in from the Atlantic bringing 40-60 inches of rain per year. The cloud cover and salty air stop the temperature from dropping very low with first frosts even coming as late as December. If you want to know which way is southwest just look at the nearest tree or bush – some are nearly bent double by the wind. The weather in Zennor is unpredictable, changeable and sometimes downright trange. All of this presents a challenge and helps make this such a fabulous place in which to live and to garden.
“Blurry seasons and a relatively narrow temperature range mark the western land. You can be lightly tanned by the warm February sun or soaked and gale-blasted on the coastal path in August.” David Rowe: from ‘The New Cornish Garden’ published by Truran 2003.
West Cornwall lies so far south in the that it is reckoned to have a growing season of 300 days per year, with more daylight in winter and less in summer than ‘up country,’ giving a long and even growing season.
Spring starts early, around mid February, summer is long and the winters are short and mild. Well, mostly and sometimes. Generalisations are perhaps not a good idea in this unique and extreme place, whose weather can beguile you with warm benign stillness then veer into stormy mayhem in a matter of minutes. Rainbows and thick, damp sea mists are common occurrences but the heavenly blue-skied long hot dry days are always worth waiting for and making the most of.
In this place the weather and soil conditions have to be worked around and simply ‘gone along with’ or ‘manipulated and tweaked’ depending on what kind of garden is wanted.
Many native plants are very happy here and grow at an astonishing rate, usually low growing and tough – see our section on ‘Zennor Flora.’ Bindweed, dock, nettles, plantain, field buttercups and the ubiquitous bramble thrive here, giving more traditional gardeners a year round challenge though they are of course beneficial for wildlife. See ‘Zennor Fauna.’
The soil is mainly acidic, with only thin topsoil on the moors and most exposed places. Those residents tucked away in valleys and hollows with shelter and deeper soil can grow more delicate and exotic plants.
The wind being both destructive and salt laden means that shelter belt planting is a good idea, rather than solid fences which can develop frost pockets and wind turbulence behind them or simply blow away. A deep belt of mixed tree and shrubs seems to work best, with the toughest plants to the outside. This dissipates the power of the wind as it filters through the barrier. Strong winds limit the growth of plants through water loss, abrasion, bud loss and leaf scorch and negate the effects of our higher ambient temperature but an effective windbreak can resolve this and eventually allow all manner of interesting planting behind. This was achieved by Arnold Forster and his gardeners at ‘Eagle’s Nest’ in the 1930s and is probably the most famous garden in Zennor Parish, though not open to the public.