The Lost Gardens are a virtual tropical paradise on the Heligan Estate located in Cornwall, United Kingdom. Full of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, grape trees as well as subtropical palms (very unusual for the area and climate) including bamboo, banana trees and ferns this mysterious and aged garden belies a curious curse within its maze hedges, mirror ponds, woody foot trails and rhododendrons.
The gardens were built by the Treymayne family when they purchased the Heligan Estate in the 17th Century. The building of the impressive gardens were not complete until the mid 18th century. However, as ancestors of the Treymayne family passed the house and gardens from generation to generation, each added something of their own to the ever-growing unusual tropical haven - producing a glorious blend of ornamental shrubs as well building greenhouses, an Italian Garden, and the Jungle.
The most unique addition to the gardens were the Mud Maids. Beautiful giant moss covered sculptures of women reclining asleep in the gardens - half buried into the land itself, crowned on top of their heads with the many different plants that protect them as they slumbered - not to be disturbed as they dreamed of far away places.
Prior to World War I in 1914, it took a large staff of 22 gardeners to keep up these sleeping beauties and their peaceful 150 year old paradise looking ravishing and to ensure it is well taken care of. It was then that tragedy struck. The saying, "Let it be known that hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned," certainly could have been the motive behind the events which followed. Did these sleeping beauties exact revenge or was it just life playing out its hand? No one knows for sure. But what is known is the following:
In 1914 at the onset of World War I most eligible men in the UK were called to duty to serve in His Majesty's Royal Army. And this would happen to be the case also for the 22 male gardeners. With no one to take care of the gardens as the war raged, the gardens would be abandoned for the duration of the war, while the gardeners fought in battles on foreign lands. Did the sleeping Mud Maids feel abandoned? Betrayed? To lay alone, unattended in disrepair and overgrowth for years! When the war was over 3 years later, the gardens were a disaster! Seems that out of the 22 gardeners who left their sleeping mistresses to lie alone in obscurity in 1914, by 1917, all but 6 were killed - 16 had perished in the war. And the 6 that survived never went back to Heligan Garden again due to war injuries and other commitments.
Was this a curse? Could the Mud Maids have felt betrayed? Did they ensure that all who leave them will never come back? Could be, because as it happened the Treymayne family also left to Italy after the war. Also abandoning the gardens. It wasn't until Jack Treymayne, the last heir, died with out heirs of his own, that the Heligan House was sold without the gardens, and the gardens were then set up in trust - virtually abandoned - waiting for someone to care for them again.
For the next several decades the Mud Maidens lay in obscurity and abandoned to a landscape of neglect. Truly a Lost Garden paradise. However, their luck changed and in the 1990s a relative of the Treymayne family showed the gardens to a friend, Tim Smit, a record producer, who fell in love with the landscape. Purchasing it, Smit restored it to its glorious beauty and more!
However upon hearing the story of the doomed gardeners, who were at one time responsible for the slumbering Mud Maids, Smit never wanting to perhaps meet the same fate, added whimsical giant heads of men, like the Mud Mads, buried half into the land, moss covered, to watch over the giant sleeping beauties so that they would never feel abandoned, and therefore not feel the need to 'curse' anyone for leaving them. He also built a special room, called the Thunderbox room and in it, is a plaster wall with a plaque dedicated to the original 22 gardeners who toiled and fussed over the gardens before the war with their original signatures. Beside it is written a phrase "Don't come here to sleep or slumber." But perhaps it should read like lyrics from the famous song "Hotel California" - "you can check out, but you can never leave." Advice the gardeners should have well heeded.