Gar­den to visit

Home to 3,000 plant species, this unique sub­trop­i­cal par­adise bathes in the warm air of the Gulf Stream

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

Tresco Abbey is a unique sub­trop­i­cal par­adise

Once de­scribed as ‘Kew with­out the glass’, the Abbey Gar­den on the tiny is­land of Tresco is a sub­trop­i­cal plant par­adise. Thanks to its lo­ca­tion in the Scilly Isles, about 30 miles off the south-west tip of Cornwall, the gar­den en­joys a fab­u­lously mild mi­cro­cli­mate, bathing in the warm air of the Gulf Stream. Tresco Abbey Gar­den was cre­ated nearly 200 years ago by Au­gus­tus Smith, a phi­lan­thropist and ed­u­ca­tion re­former, and now sup­ports a rich and di­verse col­lec­tion of plants that wouldn’t or­di­nar­ily sur­vive in Bri­tain. When Au­gus­tus ar­rived on Tresco in 1834, hav­ing leased the is­lands from the Duchy of Cornwall, he re­alised that al­though the cli­mate was warm, the is­lands bore the full brunt of the pre­vail­ing At­lantic weather. To cre­ate a pro­tec­tive shel­ter­belt he planted Mon­terey pines and cy­press trees, fast-grow­ing spec­i­mens from the Cal­i­for­nian coast that can cope with salt-laden winds, as well as banks of the ev­er­green oak, Quer­cus ilex. Au­gus­tus had con­nec­tions with Kew and would re­ceive plants from there. It’s also likely that Scil­lo­nian sailors would have brought back seeds from their trav­els to ex­otic lands for ex­per­i­men­tal plant­ing in these balmy coastal gardens.

The gar­den Au­gus­tus cre­ated was set around the ru­ins of a Bene­dic­tine pri­ory, but over the years sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions of the fam­ily have ex­tended the gar­den and ex­panded the plant col­lec­tions. Vis­i­tors can now wan­der through shady, hu­mid glades of tree ferns, pep­per trees (Macropiper ex­cel­sum) and nikau palms (rhopalostylis) from New Zealand, to sunny ter­races planted with aloes, agaves and the UK’s tallest Ca­nary Is­land palms. From the top of the gar­den you can ad­mire stun­ning views across turquoise wa­ters and glis­ten­ing white sandy beaches. It’s hard to be­lieve you’re still in the Bri­tish Isles! There are about 3,000 dif­fer­ent species in the gar­den, pre­dom­i­nantly from the Mediter­ranean zone (which in­cludes parts of coastal Chile and Cal­i­for­nia, the Cape of South Africa and south and west Aus­tralia). Aeo­ni­ums, known lo­cally as Scilly cab­bages, are dot­ted about the gardens and colonies have made their homes in cracks in the walls of the abbey ru­ins. The wood­land floor has been colonised by a pep­per­mint pe­largo­nium so suc­cess­fully that the gar­den­ers have to mow it to keep it un­der con­trol! Spiky-leaved Chilean puyas erupt with spec­tac­u­lar dis­plays of blue flow­ers in spring, and gi­gan­tic blue spires of Echium pin­i­nana from the Ca­nary Is­lands self-seed along paths and in bor­ders, where they tower over vis­i­tors. At the top of the gar­den the con­di­tions are at their most ex­treme – hot, dry, bright and windy. Here the wind-tol­er­ant sil­ver tree (Leu­co­den­dron ar­gen­teum) thrives along with proteas and the pin­cush­ion plant (Leu­cosper­mum cordi­folium). It’s rare for the gar­den to be with­out some­thing in bloom: some plants have adapted to our north­ern hemi­sphere sea­sons, while oth­ers re­main on south­ern hemi­sphere time, and many more just keep flow­er­ing all year round. So, if you’d like to ex­pe­ri­ence ex­otic plant­ing with­out pay­ing for a long-haul flight, head to Tresco. You won’t even need your pass­port!

A WORLD APART (clock­wise from top left) A blue wooden bridge at the en­trance; the shell house; aeo­ni­ums on the ter­race; a lush trop­i­cal par­adise; Leu­cosper­mum cordi­folium (pin­cush­ion plant) thrives in the sun and wind

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