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Here, with no preparation, you are transported to the fynbos of South Africa. Or anywhere else where agaves and restios, palms and tall spiky eryngiums populate the land. You are in a landscape of beige, bleached cream and grey, with bizarre grass trees (species of the Australian native Xanthorrhoea) erupting from the slope among Butia capitata and Phoenix theophrasti.
The last of them, Seymour Tremenheere, planted the oaks, beeches, sweet chestnuts and hollies that still flourish in the steep-sided valley and provide a backdrop to Dr Armstrong's exotic introductions: fabulous tree ferns (forget the standard dicksonias – we're in cyathea territory here), underplanted with begonias and tropical-looking colocasias.You pick it up, not only in the way the place is planted, but also in the superb installations.Crowning the stony hill is a James Turrell piece where a dark passage leads to a womb of light, with an oval eye gazing at the sky and the clouds chasing across it.A parcel of land came up for sale just outside Penzance in Cornwall and Neil Armstrong, who practices as a GP in the town, bought it.Armstrong doesn't live on the land, or ever wish to, and yet every weekend for the past 15 years he's come on his own to this secretive valley, delicately clearing and planting to make a retreat that is now quite staggering in its richness and complexity. "Well," he says, slipping away from an answer, "for the first five years you know it was mostly clearing.