“ Garden consisting of million of shells which have been collected from local shores „
The Shell Garden in Jersey is located just outside St Aubin, on the blue tourist bus route. It is very proud of being the largest garden of its kind in the world and is quite literally someone's house and garden, covered in locally collected shells. It is open every summer and is maintained and expanded during the winter months when it is closed to visitors.
'It's kitsch' is probably the nicest thing I can say about the Shell Gardens. 'It's the epitome of tacky' is probably a more accurate description of it, in my honest opinion. When I was younger, my Nan (like many people I think) used to collect shells from the beach and use a rather ugly cement like substance to stick them to the side of plant pots to make a 'decorative ornament' as she would say. Whilst I had fun collecting the shells, I thought the end product was pretty naff, but this is exactly what Shell Gardens is like but on a much bigger scale. There are shells everywhere!
Starting from the outside, the welcoming sign is made from shells and is an indication of what you can expect. The sign looks like it has been done by a child and not a very artistic one at that. There are shells all over the wall and there is giant concrete snail that is covered with shells - perhaps a jovial character to welcome you, or perhaps a scary creature to warn you away - I'm not quite sure!
On the inside there is a small stand where you pay your admission fee of £2 per person. On the plus side, the entire entrance fee is donated to charity - the owners of the gardens choose a local charity each year and information about each one is located on the back wall of the gardens. I thought that this was a very admirable thing to do and it raised my opinion of the place slightly.
My first impression of the gardens was that they were one of the creepiest things I've ever seen. Every single visible surface is covered with an array of shells, but continuing the theme from outside, it looks like it has been designed and finished by children. There are shells all over the floors, walls and stairs and there are various ornaments propped on the grassy areas, including giant shells covered in shells and animals. There is a chair in the corner that is pretty uncomfortable, but good for posing for photos, if you wish. The route around the gardens is well laid out and easy to follow although it is spread over two floors with only stairs as access, so it's not suitable for those who struggle with stairs.
The stairs are flanked by little shell castles that are adorned, very strangely, with plastic Disney characters. I can only assume that this is designed to appeal to younger visitors, although I would imagine that the appeal is limited due to the number of characters that have heads and limbs missing!
I said that my first impression of the garden was that it was creepy, but nothing yet had quite prepared me for the 'pet cemetery' section. This was a sort of garden area that was filled with shell covered 'tombstones', each one the resting place of one of the owners' many animals, including dogs, cats and rabbits. Each 'stone' had the name of the deceased pet and a couple of pictures of it on the front. The space between the stones was filled with pet toys and shell covered toadstools and the whole thing was overlooked by a large statue of the Virgin Mary, again covered in shells. Whilst I thought that the rest of the garden was tacky, it was in an inoffensive way, but I actually thought this part was quite distasteful - each to their own though, I suppose.
There is a gift shop filled with all manner of things covered in shells so that you can take a piece of the fun home as an everlasting memory. There is also a cafe that serves drinks, snacks and sweet treats. There are some toilets next to the cafe as well, although I would recommend that you only use them if you're absolutely desperate. They are very well maintained but, for reasons known only to themselves, the owners have decided to place little round discs of red glass around the walls of the toilets giving you a clear view of everyone in the cafe and them a clear view of you!
Overall, I would say that Shell Gardens is so bad that it's laughable - making it quite a strange experience. Having said that, I don't think I'd have such a light hearted opinion of it if I'd been made to stay there longer than I had. Be warned that the buses only go past here once every hour, except for once in the morning and once in the afternoon when there are two buses about 20 minutes apart. We'd finished our visit within 15 minutes and were eager to escape the land that time forgot! I do feel a bit bad giving it such bad review, because it is obviously a labour of love for the owners (and seemingly the tens of thousands of visitors it attracts each year), but it just wasn't for me I'm afraid.