The sub-tropical Abbey Garden is a glorious exception; a perennial Kew without the glass, home to thousands of exotic plants from around the world flourishing right here on the Isles of Scilly...
Here off the coast of Cornwall, Spring comes early, autumn stays late and winter hardly exists at all. Truly a subtropical paradise, Tresco Abbey Garden is brimming with plants that would stand no chance at all just 30 miles away on the Cornish mainland.
The beautiful garden, built in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey, is home to species from across the world’s Mediterranean climate zones, from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.
It’s quite easy to while away a day meandering among sheltered glades of tree ferns or strolling along sunny terraces, gazing out across the borders to the ocean views beyond. Even non-gardeners cannot fail but wonder at the array of scents, sights and sounds that await around every corner.
The face of the garden changes throughout the year. In spring flowers bloom weeks ahead of those on the mainland – the perfect tonic after a long, cold winter. In the autumn the reds, golds and ambers of the seasonal foliage contrast with the magnificent proteas, aloes and camellias. Even at the winter solstice there are usually more than 300 species of plant in flower.
Tresco Abbey Garden is open daily from 10am until 4pm. Please note: the Garden remains open throughout the year, but the Garden Visitor Centre and Cafe is closed during the winter (early November until March).
There are daily tripper boats to Tresco from the neighbouring islands of St Mary’s, Bryher and St Martin’s, and regular trips from St Agnes. Please see island boat boards for details.
The treasures to be found within the Abbey Garden are not limited to the floral kind, either. The Valhalla Museum within the Garden is home to shipwrecked figureheads collected across the Isles of Scilly and now part of the National Maritime collection.
Entry to Tresco Abbey Garden and the Valhalla Museum is:
Important Note on Accessibility: Please note that, in line with the other off-islands, there is no public transport available on Tresco. Depending on tides, your boat may land some distance from the Abbey Garden. Whilst the garden does have a number of sets of steps, there is also an accessible route along shingle paths suitable for wheelchairs. A limited number of mobility scooters are available to hire (booking strongly advised). For further information on accessibility around the garden, please call the Garden Visitor Centre on +44 (0)1720 424108.
The subtropical garden is home to species from across the world’s Mediterranean climate zones, from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.
Fringing the lush grid of paths which criss-cross the gardens are a host of succulents, towering palms and giant, lipstick-red flame trees. Here you can find flowers of the King Protea and the handsome Lobster Claw, great blue spires of Echium, brilliant Furcraea, Strelitzia and shocking-pink drifts of Pelargonium.
Tresco Abbey Garden was established by Augustus Smith in the 19th century, originally as a private garden within the grounds of his home, adjacent to the remains of a Benedictine Abbey founded in 964 AD.
Augustus Smith created tall windbreaks around the garden, channelling the weather up and over the network of walled enclosures and terraces he carved from the rocky, south facing slopes looking towards St Mary's.
The hotter, drier terraces at the top of the garden suit South African and Australian plants; those lower down provide the humidity that favours flora from New Zealand and South America.
The Abbey Garden is an incredible place for horticultural students to gain invaluable experience. Garden curator Mike Nelhams is involved with various scholarships and bursaries which can help students gain placement in this prestigious botanical site. Find more info here.
Click on the illustrations to discover some of the Abbey Garden's remarkable collection of botanical treasures.Close
The Eucalyptus Collection can be found above the Kitchen Garden but there are also many specimens planted throughout the gardens.
Locally known as Scilly Cabbages, succulent Canary Island aeoniums have made themselves at home in the gardens.
The Monterey cypress is a vital part of the gardens’ shelterbelt as well as being a beautiful tree.
The Shell House was designed and decorated by Lucy Dorrien Smith in 1997.
The Agave Fountain was created by Cornish artist Tom Leaper in 1996.
The Kitchen Garden supplies the Dorrien Smith family with fruit, vegetables and cut-flowers – there’s bees and chickens too!
Visit the shop, cafe and The History Room including Colossus exhibition.
No other garden in Britain can boast such a variety of beautiful South African proteas on display.
Aloes are not only useful for their healing properties – they are beautiful too!
The exotic puyas may be spikey leaved but they have extraordinary flowers in the spring.
The Canary Island echiums put up tall spires of purple blue flowers and seed themselves throughout the gardens.
Agathis australis from New Zealand.
One of the most iconic trees in the garden with its regular foliage.
The Silver Tree from South Africa gets its shimmer from the hundreds of tiny hairs that cover its leaves.
The Canary Island palms on the Middle Terrace are the tallest in the British Isles.
Some agaves produce a flowering stem nearly 10m high – if you’re lucky you might see one here!
Watsonias flower in drifts through the gardens in the summer.
Tresco’s Earth Mother - Gaia was sculpted from South African marble by David Wynne.
The tall hedges of evergreen oak protect the garden from salt-laden gales but they are a challenge to trim!
Tresco Children made by the sculptor David Wynne is one of the gardens’ highlights.
A collection of trachycarpus palms.
In the lower parts of the gardens tree ferns from New Zealand and Australia flourish.
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.
With its large barrel-like trunk full of sweet sap, the Chilean wine palm is one of the most important specimens in the garden.
Colourful in the summer with seasonal bedding.
Aloes, aeoniums and an array of scrambling Lampranthus, it is difficult to believe that the Succulent Cliff is in England!
This champion specimen of Banksia from Australia was once reduced to a stump by snow but now it’s back – better than ever!
This figurehead was taken from SS Thames, wrecked on Scilly in 1841; made of wood, it was painted white and covered in sand to make it appear to be stone!
The King Protea is the national flower of South Africa and one of the most striking blooms on Tresco!
Beautiful climber with clusters of orange flowers. (Latin: Bomarea Caldasii)
Exotic, narcotic shrub with large trumpet-like flowers. (Latin: Brugmansia)
Large evergreen tree - a vital part of Tresco's windbreak. (Latin: Cupressus Macrocarpa)
The Bell Tree Dahlia with pink-lilac flowers. Latin: Dahlia Imperialis)
Mound-forming bromeliad with spiny leaves, red bracts and blue flowers.
Large, barrel-trunked palm tree, full of sweet sap. (Latin: Jubaea Chilensis)
The ultimate architectural plant - species can produce a flower spike 10 metres high. (Latin: Agave sp.)
The furcraea flowers once in its life - often synchronised with other furcraeas in the garden. (Latin: Furcraea longaeava)
A mountain bromeliad with extraordinary blue flowers. (Latin: Puya Alpestris)
Australian member of the Protea family, named after Sir Joseph Banks. (Latin: Banksia - Genus)
The brilliant sprays of yellow flowers used to be cut and shipped to florists. (Latin: Acacia Longifolia)
Tough shrub with delightful tubular bell flowers. (Latin: Correa sp.)
Lush green foliage with a large, red flower spike. (Latin: Doryanthes Palmeri)
Golden-flowered shrub with a scent like musty pineapple. (Latin: Dryandra Formosa)
The great tree species of Australia with vibrantly -coloured flowers. (Latin: Eucalyptus ficifolia)
Low shrub with rosemary-like leaves and small red flowers. (Latin: Grevillea Rosmariniifolia)
Small tree with creamy white flowers. (Latin: Hakea sp.)
Shrub with deep red bottlebrush flowers. (Latin: Kunzea Baxteri)
The flower of New South Wales - crimson and gorgeous. (Latin: Telopea - Genus)
Succulent with rosettes of dark purple/red leaves and yellow flowers. (Latin: Aeonium Arboreum Atropurpureum)
Succulent with rosettes of green leaves and yellow flowers. (Latin: Aeonium)
Tall biennial with splendid head of small blue flowers. (Latin: Echium Pininana)
White flowered mediterranean evergreen shrub. (Latin: Cistus Ladanifera)
Medium shrub with orange/ yellow racemes of flowers. (Latin: Isoplexus)
Large leafy umbelliferous plant - a sort of Madeiran cow parsley! (Latin: Melanoselinum decipiens)
Shrub with fantastic blue flowers in late-spring. (Latin: Echium sp.)
Large palm trees which dominate the Middle Terrace. (Latin: Phoenix Canariensis)
Mediterranean bulb with deep violet - blue flowers. (Latin: Scilla Peruviana)
Shrub with bright pink or white flowers.
Succulent shrub with fiery red-orange flowers. (Latin: Aloe arborescens)
South Africa bulb with rose-pink flowers in late-summer and autumn. (Latin: Amaryllis Belladonna)
Endemic South African genus with round white flower heads. (Latin: Brunia albiflora)
Brilliant red heather - often the first flower after a bush fire. (Latin: Erica Cerinthoides)
Smallish tree with attractive red flowers. (Latin: Greyia sutherlandii)
Corm with pale golden yellow to peach or pink flowers in the summer. (Latin: Homeria sp.)
National flower of South Africa. (Latin: Protea Cynaroides)
Orange, furry flowered shrub with aromatic leaves. (Latin: Leonotis Leonorus)
Found naturally only on the slopes of Table Mountain above Cape Town. (Latin: Leucadendron Argenteum)
Wonderful "weed" with purple daisy flowers. (Latin: Senecio glastifolius)
Striking member of the Protea family - flowers loved by the Cape sunbirds. (Latin: Leucospermum Cordifolium)
Photographer James Darling writes about working on Tresco.Read More
Catch up on all the news from the past year by reading our Tresco Times Yearbook.Read More
The mild winter has lead to a record-breaking bloom for the Abbey GardenRead More
Supported by The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in Rural Areas
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