Discover the ‘hidden gardeners’ of Pinetum

Discover the ‘hidden gardeners’ of Pinetum

Have you met our  ‘Hidden Gardeners’ & the sculptor behind them?

Sculpter Nigel Wills.

Here his wife Lyn tells us about her husband Nigel Wills, a Cornishman who, over the last 7 years, has begun to fulfil his lifelong dream – creating exquisite sculptures of fish, shells, birds and insects.

When approached by an old friend, Mike Thomas, to create a child friendly interactive sculpture trail at Pinetum Gardens, themed around resident insects, to say that Nigel was pulled out of his comfort zone, would be an understatement!

The aim, was to visualise these ‘Hidden Gardeners’ in steel, which would patina and age, merging into their surroundings, making these tiny creatures even more elusive, secretive and harder to find.

To counter them disappearing completely into the background, they were to be ten times their normal size.

Characteristically, Nigel rose to the challenge, choosing to start this unusual series of sculptures with the Common Ground Beetle.

Common Ground Beetle

Starting by sketching and researching the scale of such a tiny subject, Nigel began by making individual body templates of the beetle’s body and legs. The ground beetle’s wings were fused together to create a unique set of armour to protect them. Did you know? This species of beetle communicates with others by scraping mouth parts together to create noise or they drum their legs on dead wood.

The Bumble Bee

I unearthed an interesting fact while I was researching this tiny master of the garden.They leave oily footprints on the flowers that they visit and have quite smelly feet! In construction, the three main elements to the body of this sculpture, head, thorax and abdomen were all shaped separately. The wings are solid sheet steel and the facial features have eyes formed from a metal mesh to highlight the bee’s amazing sculptural eyes. The body and legs are covered in small welds to imitate the texture of the hair found there and the bee’s wings are veined using welds to imitate this.

The Dragonfly

The challenge with this sculpture was principally to try and replicate the beautiful purple and blue hues in the wings of these most enchanting of insects. These hues are achieved from the welding torch; the sheet steel Nigel used reacts to heat by blooming into a range of colours varying from dark gold to rich dark purple. The skill is to control the colours as they form, once overheated there’s no going back. You will find this sculpture at the edge of the lake near the bottom of the garden where these reclusive insects make their homes.

Daubentons Bat

A particularly elusive resident of the gardens, a colony of this rare and tiny bat use the lake as part of their feeding grounds. Catching insects on the wing just centimetres from the surface of the water, these skilful flyers use echolocation to identify friends and food alike. A nocturnal resident, it is only a privileged few visitors who have seen these shy creatures but they certainly have a big effect on the ecosystem, eating up to 600 bugs an hour, they are voracious feeders and keep the insect pests at bay in order for the gardens to flourish.

Garden Snail

This slimy customer was the most challenging to make, its body although streamlined is mainly featureless. Nigel used a slow build-up of welds, ground off, then welded again to create its leathery body, however the shell was a different story, Made from flat steel it is created in six sections which were formed and shaped to fit each other perfectly. The rich colourful hues on the shell are reflected again in the body of this huge mollusc which measures almost a metre long.

Incy Wincy Spider

The scale of this piece is striking. Half a metre wide and hanging in a web some two metres around, poised to attack an unsuspecting victim, this huge sculpture needed to be very carefully sited. Nigel walked the gardens several times before choosing a large gap in the hedge between the Winter Garden and the Pinetum. Carefully he measured and constructed the web so that it fit this space perfectly. The web was transported to the gardens from his workshop several times, before going off to be galvanised. This process not only protects the web but leaves a silver grey hue on the metal, which catches the light, just like a real web.  ‘Incy Wincy’ is welded into the web with her lunch, a juicy fly, not far away. This piece has proved a magnet especially for the younger children who visit the gardens. Far from being frightened of the massive arachnid, they want to get up close and personal with her. So much so, that the gardens have had to protect her with a ‘No climbing into the web sign!!’

‘March of the Leaf Cutter Ants’

These tiny fellows move in formation whenever they travel. These worker ants were very complicated to make. With three main parts to their bodies similar to the beetle and bee, these guy’s heads were so much smaller than the other sculptures in the series and needed to feature strong jaws to carry their leaves in. In the photographs you can see the size of the ants head in comparison to a small bolt which should give you an idea of just how difficult it was to represent such a complicated creature in a resistant material such as sheet steel.

Stick Insect

When the gardeners discovered a colony of these enchanting insects in the gardens last year, owner and custodian, Chang Li asked Nigel to add them into his collection of hidden gardener sculptures.  They are the perfect addition, camouflage and disguise are watchwords of this insect’s survival, as they are the favourite meal of many animals, birds, bats and lizards, not to mention frogs and toads.

Giving such a slight and delicate subject character in steel was a challenge. Nigel chose to arch the back of the insect sculpture guiding the stick insect to raise its head inquisitively reaching upwards, carefully feeling its way out of the safety of a bough of leaves. Look very carefully as you approach the garden entrance. He is the very first insect on the trail that you may be able to discover, leading into the magical world of the Hidden Gardeners Nature Trail.

Come and discover the magic of Pinetum Gardens & seek out our 8 ‘Hidden Gardeners’, can you discover them all?

Introduction To Pinetum – Cornwall’s Secret Garden

Introduction To Pinetum – Cornwall’s Secret Garden



Pinetum is Cornwall’s new secret garden, a botanical paradise nestled on the South coast. Home to a wide variety of plants set across 30 acres, Pinetum offers a haven of tranquillity in contrast with the fast pace of modern life.

Pinetum has been lovingly created over the last four decades, and now houses one of the largest plant collections in Cornwall as well as an impressive array of champion trees, 67 of which are champions at county level, and 10 at national.

With a wonderful Garden Café serving breakfast, lunch and Afternoon Tea, plus an array of trails and ways for children to discover nature, it’s the perfect place to visit with friends, family, or simply for some ‘me-time’.

Situated in impressive parkland Pinetum features ten individual garden areas, each celebrating a different array of plants and gardening styles. Reflecting the seasons, cultures of the world, and the local flora and fauna within these areas you are sure to find something that stirs the soul…



The Aboretum is an area of peace and tranquillity surrounded by trees and Rhododendrons. There are benches to sit and enjoy the quiet, while you can watch the perimeter explode in a parade of colour during the Autumn when the Acers and Parrotia go out in blazing shades of red, orange and yellow.


Cornish Cottage Garden

Colour plays an important part in the Cornish Cottage Garden, with the beds designed with this in mind. Shrub-backed perennials sit with a true cottage-style collection of herbaceous plants, bulbs, shrubs, trees, ferns and climbers.  Statues and water features complete the feel, with rare newts to be spotted amongst the foliage.


Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden is truly authentic, inspired by those honed over centuries in Kyoto. The plants were first seeded from gifts given to the owners by an English-speaking gardener working in the city. Every year this continues, with seeds coming from the East. The Japanese summer house is based on an original design from the 17th century.


Courtyard Garden

Designed with colour in mind, the courtyard is a more formal garden with a statue at its centre. The three borders feature grasses which flower in the spectrum of the rainbow. Camellias, Magnolias and Rhododendrons complete the ambience. You can also relax on picnic tables scattered amongst profusions of flowers.


Wild Flower Meadow and Lake

The perfect place to relax, enjoy a picnic and reconnect with your inner-calm. Head down to the Wildflower Meadow and take in the peaceful ambience of the lake whilst admiring the miles of views looking over the Cornish countryside.


The Pinetum

A four-acre area of the gardens designed in the style of an amphitheatre with the tallest trees at its edge, The Pinetum is impressive in every way from the moment you enter. Created 25 years ago with a variety of trees including the Giant Redwood. Some featured have been grown at Pinetum from seeds obtained through our seed hunting expeditions.


Old Garden

One of the first gardens you encounter on arrival, the Old garden features at its centre a statue of a horse backed by two Tetrapanax which will one day tower over him. The old garden is also home to a bridge intertwined with white scented wisteria stretching across water which cascades down granite boulders from Luxulyan.


Water Garden

The Water Garden is a magnet for the wildlife that love to visit Pinetum. Deer, heron, badgers and foxes are all spotted here while newts frogs and toads come to spawn every year. Built on a slope, the Water Garden also features a regal purple beech which reflects majestically in the water. This area is incredibly peaceful and contains seating where visitors can relax and reflect.


Winter Garden

Cornwall’s largest dedicated winter garden, this area was designed to showcase the very best of the plants and greenery that thrive in the colder months. Paths spiral from the centre like a rose, with winter flowers, beautiful barks and colourful foliage all displayed at their very best.


Woodland Garden

This area truly celebrates Great British Woodland. Encompassing the drive on the way towards the main gates, the woodland features Snowdrops, Bluebells and Wood Anemones amongst much more. Two thousand native trees were planted 25 years ago and an Acer glade dazzles with seasonal colour.


To read more about the individual areas of Pinetum you can take a look here.