Why Tresco Abbey Garden should be on your summer scorchio list
We are pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to great gardens across the Duchy. Team Muddy Cornwall are slowly ticking them off our bucket list. One I’d like to rave about if you’ll kindly indulge is The Abbey Garden on Tresco, one of the five inhabited Scilly Islands. It might be 30 miles off the mainland, but I think its one you should add to your summer hot list.
Described as ‘a perennial Kew without the glass‘, by clever terracing and windbreaking planting, it manages to defy the harsh Atlantic conditions to host subtropical plants which would die and wither horribly on the mainland (especially in my garden).
Our route in on the A30 to Penzance for the ferry was a doddle (that’s bloke code for no-need-for-sat-nav) and took just over an hour, but we are all at the mercy of the British roads in the summer so check reports before you leave. You could of course take the train: the GWR Padders to Pz takes about six hours, with loads of convenient stops along the way.
Back in the day, you could land your helicopter near by, but sadly the scheduled copter service is no more. However, you can still catch the skybus from Lands End and be in St Mary’s within 15 minutes! Yes, holy cow, I said FIFTEEN MINUTES PEOPLE! With a short onward transfer by boat to Tresco, if you’re already in Cornwall, this is an easily dooable day trip – even if you travel on the Scillonian III like we did.
The gardens open at 10am but we arrived early afternoon, such was the lure of The Mermaid public house on St Mary’s – perfect timing for a caffeine injecting cup of coffee in the cafe first (or ice-cream if you’re Mr MC). There’s a decent cafe and shop selling local art, plants from the garden and other lovely bits and bobs.
This 17 acre oasis was created back in the 19th century in the ruins of an even earlier priory. Fringing the lush grid of paths which cut through the gardens you’ll find cacti and succulents, towering Canary Island palms on the middle terrace, and the Queen Mother’s Tree (Agathis autralis) along the long walk. The hotter, drier terraces at the top of the garden suit South African and Australian plants (check out the iconic Norfolk Island Pine Grove); those lower down provide the humidity that favours flora from New Zealand and South America .
The flora is punctuated with striking sculptures – the work of local artists such as the Agave Fountain by Tom Leaper, and The Tresco Children by David Wynne .
Its not just exotics though – there’s an impressive kitchen garden, supplying fruit, veg and cut flowers – and chicken and bees too. Local and unusual wildlife – you’ll find red squirrels here if you’re lucky, and birds of all colours.
We spent a good hour and a half meandering around the paths only to reach the fascinating but at the same time slightly morbid Valhalla Museum – a collection of shipwrecked figureheads and memorabilia from ancient shipwrecks – including a 17th century cannon. The collection began around 1840 by Augustus Smith and his family. Most of the figureheads come from local wrecks and their provenance detailed on an accompanying information plaque but many, the source is unknown (or forgotten).
There’ so much to see. I’ll be going back later this summer and on my hit list are Gaia the earth mother, the pebble garden and the old Abbey.
The gardens close at 4pm but by then I’ll guarantee you’ll be pretty knackered, and ready for home.
A relaxed mindful way to spend a few hours.
Good for: artists and photographers – the light is brilliant and there is so much to see, draw, paint and photograph here. Meditation and mindfulness. Those looking for a tranquil spot to sit and absorb the vista. Botanists, gardeners and anyone with slightly green fingers (and those without). Families – look out for the trail challenges – lots of space for kids to wear themselves out.
Not for: while alot of the garden is level, and some paths are gently sloped, the terracing means that steps are unavoidable (and there are ALOT of them). Those with reduced mobility might not be able to enjoy all parts.
£££: reasonably priced, discounts for concessions and children. The weekly pass means if you’re staying longer you can totally lose yourself.
10am – 4pm every day £15 or Tresco Abbey Garden, Tresco, Isles of Scilly TR24 0QQ T: 01720 424108
Skybus fly all year round to St Mary’s from Land’s End and Newquay, and from Exeter between March and November. The Scillonian III passenger boat sails from Penzance to St Mary’s from March through to November.