Summer in the Abbey Garden
Curator Mike Nelhams highlights some of the show-stopping plants in bloom during the summer months.
Spend a sun-soaked summer’s afternoon in the Abbey Garden and you’ll truly feel like you’re somewhere much further afield than a little cluster of islands adrift from the Cornish coast.
With plants from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Chile amongst other exotic locations, the Garden resembles a veritable jungle and is particularly vibrant during the summer months.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during summer, here are a few botanical highlights to look out for:
New Zealand Flame Tree (Metrosideros excelsa)
Impossible to miss, as a particularly impressive specimen stands just outside the entrance to the garden – this tall tree erupts into eye-catching scarlet-coloured blooms during the summer months.
Due to the Flame Trees’ intolerance of frost and cold winters, our Abbey Garden is the only garden in Britain able to grow, and very few gardens in Europe can, so it’s quite a rare and special site. Curator Mike notes ‘This is probably the best tree in the world for wind and salt spray tolerance, making it quite at home on the islands.
’Also known as the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’ due to the fact that it blossoms during the New Zealand summer, including Christmas, however our Scilly expats have adapted to flower during British summertime.
Australian Bottle Brush (Callistemon citrinus splendens)
Another plant with a fabulously descriptive name, the Australian Bottle Brush erupts into flower throughout July to September.
It showcases blooms in a variety of colours – pinks, reds and yellows – and is well-suited to a coastal climate.
Native to South Africa, this plant is frost-tender due to being 95% water, but thrives well here thanks to our mild winters. Most Aloes on Scilly flower in the winter, matching their behaviour in the South African climate, however this particular species has adapted and blooms with intriguing yellow heads during our summer months.
Mike notes, ‘This is the toughest of all the Aloes, making it easy to propagate from cuttings, and tough enough to withstand the occasional frost .’
A relative of the common dandelion – just a little more extreme! This version can grow beyond 12ft tall, and, as Mike notes, would be suitably more challenging to vanquish with your lawnmower!
Originating from the Canary Islands, this plant has a big, bushy shape, long leaves, and a scattering of tall dandelions atop each cluster.
It’s a self-seeding plant, so you may well see more of these around the Abbey Garden and across the island in years to come.
Robinson Crusoe Cabbage Tree (Dendroseris littoralis)
This special plant originates from Robinson Crusoe island on the Juan Fernandez islands which are 400 miles off the coast of Chile, known as the location that so inspired the novel.
During summer it erupts into breathtaking orange blooms – find it flourishing on the long walk.
Anyone familiar with Scilly summers will recognise the agapanthus – a true hallmark of late July and August on the islands.
They are native to South Africa, and as well as punctuating the Abbey Garden with their vibrant purple and white heads, they’re also found in abundance on roadsides and across the sandbanks at the south end of the island.
Tresco is well-suited to agapanthus, as they prefer poor sandy soil and compressed roots – worth noting if you’d like to source some to grow at home.
Watsonia Tresco Hybrid
There are many different species of Watsonia, native to South Africa and flowering at different times of year. This particular species however is very special as it was ‘conceived’ on Tresco, a hybrid cross between two species previously flowering in the Abbey Garden.
Watsonia Tresco Hybrid is characterised by a vibrant orange or peach coloured flower, blossoming during the summer months.
Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Familiar to almost everyone from florist shops it is characterised by a colourful flower resembling a bird in flight, The “Bird of Paradise” plant is native to South Africa, and gives an essence of warm, tropical climes.
Summery Scenes in the Abbey Garden
Think bees buzzing amongst proteas on the top terrace, exploring lush green pathways, golden pheasants scuttling out of view, a gentle breeze whispering through tree-lined terraces...
Here's a little snapshot of the Abbey Garden basking in summer sunshine: