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A trip to the Isles of Scilly would not be complete unless you have visited the island of Tresco and its fantastic Abbey Garden. Tresco itself is one of the larger of the Islands that make up this wonderful archipelago, and can be reached from the island of St Mary's via boat crossing several times a day.
We opted for the 1015am sailing, and this simple boat carries about 85 people on bench like seating. The crossing takes about 30 minutes, and could be a little choppy in parts, although no one seemed to have any noticeable effects of sea sickness so please do not let the length of the crossing put you off! In any event you are open to the elements and the wind and the breeze should be enough to keep any illness at bay. The crossing itself will cost about £8 return. The boat itself simply lands on the beach at Tresco in the village known as Old Grimsby on the east of the island, and the waters are extremely shallow here. The captain of our boat was quite a comedian and as a result I know I was not the only one who thought it was a wind up that he asked the people at the back of the boat to move forward, so he could propel us the final few yards and on to the beach. I recommend the 1015 crossing so that you can maximise your time on the islands, not that you need to see everything at lightning speed, but just to allow enough time to relax, and truly smell the roses, as it were.
On disembarking, it is a pleasant 20-30 minute stroll to the entrance to the Abbey Gardens. You will notice that it is also possible to get to the islands by the helicopter, as the noise on take off and landing permeates the air every so often. You could probably walk this route a lot faster, but part of the beauty of these islands is they truly do provide a perfect environment for slowing down and chilling out, so why rush around! Despite the boat carrying over almost 100 passengers, we soon found that we were meandering around the coastal path somewhat alone, as people scatter among the pathways on this small island.
Entrance to the Abbey Gardens themselves costs £9 for adults, and there are discount tickets available if you are making the islands your home for a week. It is also worth investing £4 in a garden guide, although you will be given a pamphlet outlining the key areas of the gardens themselves.
Before you enter the gardens themselves, you will find a well stocked shop and a great little café restaurant area with reasonably priced cakes, snacks and main meals. We had been advised to take a picnic as catering on the island can be expensive. We did this, and while I did not find the café in the gardens particularly expensive, the pub that we stumbled across later on in the day was quite expensive, and so a picnic is probably a good idea.
History of Tresco Abbey Gardens
Augustus Smith, who had taken over the lease of all the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall, found the seclusion of Tresco suited him perfectly. The islands are washed by the gulf-stream and are virtually frost free, which he recognised would be a perfect home for an exotic garden unlike anything anywhere else on the UK mainland. He developed his horticultural knowledge and networked with other influential gardeners to develop the gardens at Tresco. The gardens have been in the same family for five generations, which has allowed them to develop with continuity in mind, despite setbacks such as hurricanes in the late 20th century.
There are many shipwrecks around the Isles of Scilly, and Augustus Smith was also a keen collector of the figureheads from the wrecks, building a purpose built home for these objects. At the Tresco Abbey Gardens, a permanent home was built for the collection. I have to say, while they are not particularly of interest to me, the quality of the collection itself was rather striking.
Plants from around the World
The gardens themselves are alive with plants from many more tropical regions of the world, including South Africa, Australia, California and Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and the Canary Isles. Given that the gardens themselves cover a relatively small area of around 17 acres, the diversity of plants that grow here is quite spectacular, and it is easy to understand why these gardens have a world class reputation as well as being unlike anything else visible within England. We had a beautiful sunny day during our visit, and my pictures were very much comparable to two of my recent holidays to the Island of Bermuda, much further south!
Although there are lots of curves and turns, the gardens themselves are fairly geometric, with some key routes North-South and West-East. The Long Walk path cuts from West to East from Aloe walk and over to the old Abbey while the Top Terrace provides the height for a wonderful view down and across the gardens. There are plenty of statues within the grounds, and the Neptune Steps link the different levels where the statue of Father Neptune and that of Gaia, Earth Mother now stand. At the base of the hill is one of my favourite statues within the Gardens, that of Tresco Children, which is also visible from the path on the way into the gardens themselves.
The Old Abbey is another of my favourite areas of the gardens, and it seems it has inspired others beside me as Augustus Smith made his first plantings in this area. The Abbey dates back to the time of Benedictine Monks in the 11th century. Today there are plenty of palm trees from across the globe including New Zealand, Australia and South America.
We picnicked in the shade of some amazing pine trees, where we found brightly coloured pheasants on the lawns. It is easy to pass away a lunch time here among the flora and fauna, although the noise from the helicopter landing and departing for Penzance, does intrude into the otherwise peaceful environment.
From the Top Terrace you can see other islands in the archipelago, including St Mary's and St Agnes. The soil conditions here mean that plants that are common in New Zealand and Australia flourish here, but the Top Terrace is a great vantage point across the gardens below.
As I have visited most of the countries whose plants and flowers grow in the Abbey Gardens, it is fascinating to see them again in a little garden in what is still arguably England. The vibrant pink 'bottlebrush' plant from Australia has always been a favourite of mine, and having picked and used Aloe Vera for its healing properties in the past, I loved to see those growing in the gardens as well (although I resisted the urge to pick any!). My sister and I were endeavouring to take plenty of wildlife, flora and fauna shots on this holiday, and we had plenty of opportunity in the gardens, such was diversity that we were presented with. In fact it is going to be very difficult to decide what goes in our joint album and what does not!
I know she had wanted to visit Tresco for most of the last twenty years and I had also heard of these magical gardens myself. I think Tresco is a wonderful place to visit, a must see attraction for those holidaying in the Isles of Scilly, but even if you are holidaying in Cornwall, the direct helicopter journey might give you your first taste of life on these fascinating islands.
The tropical Abbey Garden is a glorious exception a perennial Kew without the glass shrugging of salt spray and Atlantic Gales to host 20, 000 exotic plants.