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Tresco Abbey Gardens

Tresco is one of the smaller, islands that make up the archipelago of the Scilly Isles. A large chunk of the island is consumed by an explosion of exuberant vegetation, largely contained within the confines of the seventeen acre Abbey Gardens.


GAP Photos/Clive Nichols/Dorien Smith/Curator Mike Nelhmas

Feature No:   3084 

Qty of Images:    85 


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Plants from over eighty different countries. Over five thousand different varieties flourish in the old ruins of a Benedictine priory. In 1834 Augustus Smith 1834 leased the island from the Duchy of Cornwall and began a project which would create this now unique garden island, a quest which has passed on through five generations to current custodians, Robert and Lucy Dorrien-Smith. Living shelter belts were planted first to protect other vegetation from the exposed coastal environment. Cossetted from salt spray and wind, basking in sunshine, the garden swelled with a plethora of lush and exotic vegetation, some of which presides today, amidst a groundswell of more recent introductions.

A violent hurricane in 1990 ripped apart more than 800 ancient trees devastating the gardens skyline and shredding the shelter belt, which has since been replanted .Curator Mike Nelhmas has tended the garden for almost two decades replanting over 60,000 trees, to create the impenetrable shelterbelt which persists today. Abbey Garden's trees, plants and flowers come from all corners of the earth, Mike has forged links between many botanic and private gardens worldwide, from New Zealand to Madera, America to Tenerife, Burma to Brazil, creating informal exchanges of plant and seed. The Gardens annual New Year's Day Flower Count records over 200 flourishing plants in bloom, testament to the exotic and eclectic mix of plants which flower at different times around the world.

The garden is laid out in huge terraces, each with its own microclimate, planted with appropriate vegetation. The top terrace, for example, enjoys hot, dry, exposed conditions, reminiscent of South Africa and Australia, and is prolific with over 60 varieties of Proteaceae; giant-headed, felted and feathered protea, loofa-like .golden-flowered Hairpin Banksia , Leucodpernum and Leucodendron flowers and green flowered Puya Berteroniana. To the west of the terrace lies a Mediterranean basin with typically flower-filled terracotta urns, pots and fountains amidst rosemary, lavender and olive trees. The lowest level, New Zealand/Canary Island territory, is shaded and cooler sprung with moss and set with ferns. The exotic gardens are studded with artwork, much reclaimed form the sea. The 'Valhalla' Museum, houses a collection of reclaimed figureheads, stern boards and other shipping paraphernalia, which Augusts Smith collected from ships, wrecked or washed-up in and around the islands. The Mediterranean garden has a terracotta-topped, open-sided shell house, richly encrusted with a myriad of shimmering and colourful shells emulating flower-filled vases, designed and hand-crafted by Lucy Dorrien- Smith with shells she gathered locally. There's a plant fountain by local artist and sculptor Tom Leaper as well a 'Whalebone' archway and a metal sculpture of 'Tresco Children' by David Wynne as well as a stone sculpture, 'Gaia', and nestling amongst the exotics.



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