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Trebah — Earth’s most gorgeous garden

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What do a Quaker family, the movie Saving Private Ryan and 22 acres of paradise in the south of England have in common?

All are connected to Trebah Gardens. It seems fitting to focus this last column of the year on the most beautiful subtropical gardens on Earth — in our experience, that is. This was confirmed this past October when Mark made his fifth visit to his favourite garden, and hosted Ben on his first trip. In 2011, daughter Heather, a student of landscape architecture, made the trip that was the subject of this column, including an interview with then-owner, Maj. Tony Hibbert.

Exotic imports, like Australian Tree Ferns and Chusan palm trees dominate the sub-tropical grounds of Trebah Gardens.
Exotic imports, like Australian Tree Ferns and Chusan palm trees dominate the sub-tropical grounds of Trebah Gardens.  (www.MarkCullen.com)

The Fox family made a lot of money between about 1840 and 1870 as international traders. They were merchant shippers, specializing in the South Pacific and Asia. They were also Quakers with an appreciation for soil and the beautiful things that spring from it, namely exotic plants.

It made sense, then, that when they cleared their property near Falmouth, Cornwall in 1840 that they would replace much of the natural vegetation with exotic imports. In time, rhododendrons from China, Australian Tree Ferns (Alsophila australis), giant-rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) and Chusan palm trees (Trachycarpus fortunei) dominated the landscape of their steeply sloped property.

Today, many of the original rhododendrons stand over 20 metres tall, the tree ferns are so large that a tall person can walk under them standing upright. Looking skyward, your vision is interrupted by mile-long fronds on the highrise-height palm trees — the sky becomes a filtered green and you suddenly see things from the perspective of a toad, or a slug (you choose).

Huge, multi-coloured hydrangea bloom in the fall on Trebah's 22 acres.
Huge, multi-coloured hydrangea bloom in the fall on Trebah’s 22 acres.  (Dreamstime.com)

Blooming rhododendrons and masses of three-metre-high blue hydrangea are a spectacle. Not on the same day, though — the former bloom in May and the latter in fall, when we were visiting.

A walk through Trebah is more like a drop and a climb since the property descends through dense greenery and the masses of hydrangeas, 18 metres down and back up again. A generous smattering of benches along the way provides a much-needed rest and opportunity to sit and absorb the atmosphere. And you will be glad that you did: the scenery of Falmouth Bay is spectacular from every angle, framed in foliage from most any point of view. Your camera will get a workout.

The moderate temperatures and generous year-round rainfall of south-west England create a climate for extraordinary plant growth and a rich palette of more than 50 shades of green.

Maj. Tony Hibbert, who brought Trebah Gardens back to its glory when he bought the property in 1978.
Maj. Tony Hibbert, who brought Trebah Gardens back to its glory when he bought the property in 1978.

But Trebah Gardens was not always the paradise that it is today. Indeed, it was a neglected tangle of weeds when Hibbert acquired it in 1981. The day he moved into the mansion on the property, his dream was of “sipping gin in the morning, and sailing in the afternoon.” That was soon put to rest when he realized what a treasure he possessed — shrouded in vines and undergrowth as it was.

Years later, when the heart of this Shangri la was revealed, Hibbert would reflect in his biography: “This garden gave me life.” A life after retirement which was long and rich in so many ways. He died in 2014 at the age of 96.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN: The garden was also host to another adventure on the evening of June 5, 1944, when 7,500 soldiers with the U.S. 29th Infantry Division embarked their ship at Trebah, from Falmouth beach, for the D-Day assault. They were headed for the American-designated chunk of the coast of Normandy, France: Omaha Beach. And Pte. James Francis Ryan — for whom the movie with an all-star cast including Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns and Ted Danson was named — vwas among those who left on that mission.

The beach at Trebah, near Falmouth in Cornwall, was where 7,500 U.S. troops left for France and the next day's D-Day battle.
The beach at Trebah, near Falmouth in Cornwall, was where 7,500 U.S. troops left for France and the next day’s D-Day battle.

If you don’t get a chance to visit Trebah Gardens for yourself, we encourage you to at least visit it online at http://www.trebahgarden.co.uk/.

However you feel about it, Trebah is bound to change your view of paradise, perhaps even a little bit.

The most beautiful garden in the world? Let us know what you think by emailing us groundskeeper@markcullen.com.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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