Tresco Abbey Garden

For the last two weeks we have been away a staying on Tresco, one of the islands that make up the Isles of Scilly.

tresco_aerial

Tresco Island, Isles of Scilly

The above photograph shows what a beautiful island Tresco is. The garden this blog describes is located just between the first pool and the left hand side of the island. The Isles of Scilly are 28 miles south west of the British mainland

and benefits  from a temperate climate which enables many subtropical plants to survive there.

A brief history of Tresco Abbey Garden

tresco001

Augustus Smith (1804 – 1872)

In 1834 Augustus Smith leased all the Isles of Scilly. He set himself four goals: good education for children, to stamp out smuggling, to stop the practice of dividing family holdings and to ensure improvement of the land and buildings stock by islanders themselves.

He also started the Tresco Abbey Garden which were based around the ruined St Nicholas Abbey. He built walls and planted shelter belts, established a close connection with Kew and, because of the location of Tresco, many Scillonian mariners returned with seeds, plants and cutting from around the world.

tresco003

Thomas Algernon Dorrien-Smith(1846 – 1918)

In 1872 Thomas Algernon Dorrien-Smith, nephew of Augustus inherited the lease. He continued to support the economy of the islands and started the daffodil flower industry. Tresco Abbey Gardens went from strength to strength. The plants Augustus planted were reaching maturity and were flowering. Thomas identified the Monterey pine and Monterey cypress as successful in shelter belts and went on to plant thousands of trees. With links to the Truro Flower Show he effectively introduced many tender species to Cornish gardens.

“He devoted his life unselfishly to these islands and added greatly to their prosperity and beauty”

tresco004

Major Arthur Dorrien-Smith(1876 – 1955)

In 1918 Major Arthur Dorrien-Smith inherited the lease from his father. He was already a gardener and horticulturist and in 1903 set up the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. He went on many plant hunting expeditions in New Zealand and on one expedition brought back 2000 plants to be divided between Kew, Edinburgh and Tresco. In 1922 financial constraints forced him to hand back control of the other Scilly islands to the Duchy of Cornwall

However, he continued to develop Tresco abbey gardens. In 1935 there were 3500 cultivated plants on Tresco and he continued to order new varieties from around the world. In 1950 the gardens were opened to the paying public. He was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the RHS

tresco005

Lieutenant Commander Thomas Mervyn Dorrien-Smith

In 1955 Lieutenant Commander Thomas Mervyn Dorrien-Smith inherited the lease from his father. He was not a plants-man but soon established a management role. He made the transition from a purely agricultural community to one that also embraced tourism. He converted some of the island cottages for holiday lets and built the Island Hotel (now closed). He continued to introduce new varieties of plants to Tresco and in 1960 exhibited the full range of Tresco’s treasures at Chelsea Flower Show.

tresco006

Prince Charles and Robert Dorrien-Smith(1951 -)

In 1973 Robert Dorrien-Smith inherited the lease  from his father and in 1983 introduced a heliport on Tresco.

The garden was then hit by natural disasters:
In 1987 a very rare snow storm caused extensive damage to many of the plants and in 1990 a hurricane brought down many of the trees including ones in the shelter belts. Robert has since replanted 60,000 trees and restored plantings in the garden. He also introduced  various sculptures to the garden and created the “Mediterranean Garden”

Tresco Abbey Garden today

IMG_1594

St Nicholas Priory, the ruins of 12th century Benedictine abbey

St Nicholas Priory was founded in the early 12th century by Benedictine monks and it was where the first plants of the Abbey Garden were planted in the mid-nineteenth century.17_07_05_6595The garden is terraced against a sheltered south facing slope. This is the middle terrace. Each terrace effectively has its own micro climate getting drier as you go up enabling different ranges of plants at each level.IMG_1623Do not expect formal planting schemes or manicured borders. The garden is really about the plants.

17_07_07_6642

South African Watsonias

Watsonias flower in drifts through the gardens in the summer.

IMG_1624

King Protea

The King Protea is the national flower of South Africa and one of the most striking blooms on Tresco! No other garden in Britain can boast such a variety of beautiful South African Proteas on display.IMG_1588In the lower parts of the gardens tree ferns from New Zealand and Australia flourish.

IMG_1612

Norfolk Island Pine

This is one of the most iconic trees in the garden with its regular foliage. I often think it was planted upside down as the branches seem to hang upwards!Picture25‘Gia’ by sculptor David Wynne and made from a block of multi-coloured South African marble.

Tresco_20080703_2361

Canary Island palms

The Canary Island palms on the Middle Terrace are the tallest in the British Isles. These steps are called Neptune Steps and they dissect the garden from top to bottom.Picture22Higher up the Neptune Steps.Tresco_20080703_2317The “Mediterranean Garden” with a water feature, based on an Agave, which was created by Cornish artist Tom Leaper in 1996. This is probably the most ‘designed’ part of the garden.

IMG_1619

The pincusion plant from South Africa, Leucospermum cordifolium

IMG_1608

A native of the Andes, Puya chiensis

IMG_1615

Furcraea longeava in flower

IMG_1582

Aloe arborescens

Each New Year on Tresco the gardeners have count the number of plants in flower. This year saw more species of plants than ever before in bloom – an astounding 289.

I have only touched he surface of this unique garden. The only way to really understand the garden is to spend a few days on the island. There are many places to stay owned by the Tresco Estate. 17_07_05_6593

Source of history:
‘Tresco Abbey Garden A Personal and Pictorial History’ by Mike Nelhams

Glebe House Garden

2017 Gardening Hours
Week beginning July 1st Total 2017 to-date Average per week
0 558 21
Advertisements

20 thoughts on “Tresco Abbey Garden

  1. Steve, what a wonderful reminder of such a special place. I first went on my honeymoon in 1987!

    I’ve been back a couple of times since, but not lately. I really must book it up. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chloris, they plan to start the helicopter again soon however we have started flying from Exeter and find it much more convenient. the island Hotel is closed now but we have normally stayed on Boro Farm which was a rented cottage from the tenant farmers but this year has been taken over by the estate with higher prices!

      Like

  2. We went by helicopter the first time we visited, but by boat the second time. Going by boat meant that we saw lots of dolphins which was a bonus. The garden really is magnificent, it had snowed agin just before we had our second visit but no damage was done thank goodness. Thanks for bringing back happy memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you have not been there you should go. You will love it. For the first time I would recommend staying in St Mary’s as you will have more flexibility to visit all the island from there. You will also need to book well ahead as the accommodation fills up quickly. Let me know if you want any more info.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Tresco Island a paradise of Wild Flowers, Beaches and walks. | Glebe House Garden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s