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Tresco Abbey Garden

tresco abbey gardens path

Escape to Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly

Lying just off the coast of Cornwall is a subtropical paradise that remains one of England’s hidden secrets – the magical Tresco Abbey Garden on the Isles of Scilly. Spread over 30 acres of a sheltered valley, these Grade I listed gardens will truly take your breath away.

Picture wandering between exotic plants from 80 countries around the world. Tall palm trees and yuccas tower above pathways speckled with vibrant flowers at every turn. It’s a tropical escape right on our doorstep!

Here’s everything you need to plan an unforgettable spring or summer day trip for the family.

path at tresco abbey gardens

Getting There

To visit Tresco Abbey Garden you’ll need to get across to the Isles of Scilly, located around 2.5 hours by boat from Penzance, Cornwall. Scheduled flights also make their from nearby Newquay and Land’s End airports and from Exeter too.

Once on St Mary’s, the main island, you can catch a small ferry over to car-free Tresco island. Boats leave up to 30 times per day in peak season for the 10 minute scenic crossing.

On arrival, the lush gardens sit a short 150 metre stroll up from New Grimsby quay. Just follow signs for the world famous Tresco Abbey Garden.

Opening Times & Tickets

Tresco Abbey Garden is open daily from March to October between 10am – 4pm. Early and late season opening may be restricted so check their website calendar before visiting.

Entry costs £18 for adults and £5 for children ages 5-16. Under 5s visit for free. You can buy tickets at the garden entrance or save 10% by pre-booking online. Expect peak times to be busy in August.

tresco garden

Tresco Abbey Garden History

In 1834, Augustus Smith, the newly appointed Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly, set his sights on Tresco Island. Captivated by its sheltered coves and rugged beauty, he envisioned a haven for himself and his passion for plants. Adjacent to the ruins of a 12th-century Benedictine priory, Augustus laid the foundation for what would become Tresco Abbey Garden.

The island, then barren and windswept, posed a formidable challenge. Augustus knew that to cultivate his horticultural dreams, he needed to create a microclimate. He painstakingly planted shelterbelts of pines and eucalyptus, transforming the landscape into a haven for a multitude of exotic species.

Over the generations, the garden flourished under the meticulous care of the Dorrien-Smith family, Augustus’s descendants. Each generation added their own brushstrokes to the canvas, introducing plant treasures from distant corners of the globe. From towering New Zealand tree ferns to vibrant South African proteas, the garden became a tapestry of diversity, defying its remote island location.

Today, Tresco Abbey Garden is a Grade I listed historic park, a testament to the unwavering passion of its creators. Visitors wander through verdant glades, their senses enveloped by the fragrance of tropical blooms. Sun-dappled paths lead past ancient priory walls, whispering tales of bygone monks and the enduring power of nature.

augustus smith tresco abbey garden

The Valhalla Collection

Marvel at an eccentric collection of 30 figureheads salvaged from ships wrecked on Scilly’s rocky coastline over the years. Spot the striking brigantine Black Prince dating from the 1800s.

Imagine weathered wooden faces, once staring resolutely across vast oceans, now gazing peacefully over sun-dappled paths and vibrant blooms. These are the stories of the Valhalla Gardens – tales of daring voyages, treacherous storms, and the unyielding spirit of the sea.

Each figurehead carries its own whispers of history. A fierce lion, once the guardian of a merchant ship, stands defiantly amidst the greenery. A mermaid, her scales still faintly gleaming, recalls tales of mythical encounters. And a weathered bust of a noble captain, eyes forever fixed on the horizon, speaks of voyages long past.

More than just relics of the past, the Valhalla Gardens serve as a poignant reminder of the deep connection between humanity and the sea. It’s a place where the whispers of the wind seem to carry the echoes of crashing waves and the cries of gulls, weaving a captivating tapestry of maritime lore.

valhalla garden

Flowers, Plants, and Flora in Tresco Abbey Garden

Imagine stepping into a hidden paradise where vibrant blooms explode from lush greenery, exotic scents dance on the breeze, and towering palms whisper secrets under a subtropical sun. This is not a dream, but the enchanting reality of Tresco Abbey Gardens, an island oasis nestled amidst the windswept Isles of Scilly.

From the first delicate spring bloom to the last autumn ember, the gardens weave a tapestry of floral wonder. Spring paints the scene with splashes of colour: the lime-green globes of Sparmannia africanus releasing puffs of pollen upon touch, the cheerful hues of Erica versicolor heather dancing in the sun, and the vibrant magenta fireworks of Pelargonium carpeting the ground.

As summer unfolds, the air ignites with the fiery brilliance of Kniphofia ‘Torch Lilies’, their orange spikes reaching for the sky. Towering Echium wildpretii pierce the heavens with majestic blue spires, while the flamboyant Strelitzia reginae birds of paradise flaunt their orange and purple plumage. Hummingbirds flit between nectar-filled calyxes, and butterflies waltz through kaleidoscopes of color.

Autumn throws the garden into a fiery embrace. Russet leaves shimmer against the emerald backdrop, while Dahlia hybrids erupt in a whirlwind of amethyst, ruby, and gold. The intoxicating fragrance of Acacia dealbata wattle fills the air, and the spikey forms of Aloe arborescens stand sentinel, basking in the soft autumn sun.

Winter, often viewed as a barren season, is when Tresco truly shines. With over 300 plant species defying the chill, the gardens become a haven for the intrepid explorer. The spiky, otherworldly forms of New Zealand tree ferns create verdant tunnels, while the vibrant crimson blooms of Camellia japonica defy the season’s gloom. The delicate bells of Canary Island Bellflower whisper winter secrets, and the architectural forms of Yucca gloriosa stand proud against the windswept sky.

Beyond the captivating blooms, Tresco Abbey Gardens offer a wealth of botanical treasures. Ancient tree ferns from New Zealand stand as timeless sentinels, while succulents from South Africa cling tenaciously to rocky outcrops. Palm trees rustle secrets in the wind, and fragrant herbs release their intoxicating scents underfoot.

Whether you’re a seasoned botanist or a casual wanderer, Tresco Abbey Gardens holds something for everyone. It’s a place to lose yourself in the vibrant embrace of nature, a sensory symphony where every turn reveals a new floral masterpiece. So, come, breathe in the salty air, feel the sun warm your skin, and let the flowers of Tresco weave their magic upon your soul.

Sheltered Beaches

Abbots Bay and Pentle Bay beaches within the gardens are perfect for sandcastle building and beachcombing in the summer. Hire rowing boats and kayaks from the boathouse too for scenic adventures – life jackets provided!

Who owns Tresco?

Ultimate Ownership: Technically, Tresco is part of the Duchy of Cornwall, which means ultimate ownership rests with Prince William.

Leasehold: However, the Dorrien-Smith family has a long-term lease on the island, dating back to the 1830s. This lease runs for around 150 years from now, meaning they effectively act as the island’s owners and manage it as the Tresco Estate. This includes Tresco Island itself, as well as other properties and businesses, like the Hell Bay Hotel on Bryher Island.

So, while Prince William holds the land as part of the Duchy of Cornwall, the Dorrien-Smith family essentially runs and manages the island through the Tresco Estate, making them the de facto owners for the foreseeable future.

duke of cornwall

Tresco Abbey Garden Cafe

Recharge with a light lunch or afternoon cream tea on the terrace at the popular cafe near the entrance. Afterwards, kids can let off steam nearby with outdoor games while you relax.

The menu offers delightful light bites and refreshments, perfectly designed to refuel after exploring the botanical wonders. Freshly brewed coffee and fragrant teas tempt the palate, while homemade cakes and scones promise an indulgent afternoon treat.

For those seeking something more substantial, sandwiches overflowing with local island produce and savory pastries filled with warming fillings hit the spot. And on sunny days, nothing beats a classic Cornish pasty, its golden crust encasing a hearty meat and vegetable filling.

This charming cafe is more than just a pit stop; it’s an integral part of the Tresco experience, a place to savor the island’s unique atmosphere and create lasting memories amidst the enchanting beauty of the flora. So, when you visit Tresco Abbey Garden, be sure to carve out time for the Garden Cafe.

tresco garden cafe

Tresco Guidebook

Tresco Abbey Garden book

Tresco Abbey Garden: A Personal and Pictorial History provides a captivating journey through the renowned Tresco Abbey Garden, showcasing its rich botanical wonders and the personal insights of its creators. This beautifully illustrated book invites readers to explore the garden’s evolution, horticultural treasures, and the fascinating stories that have shaped its unique legacy.

Buy Now

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Tresco Abbey Garden accessible for wheelchairs? –  Yes, the garden has a wheelchair-accessible shingle path winding through the majority of the area. A few mobility scooters are also available on a first-come, firstt serve basis.

Are there guided tours available? – Yes, guided tours are offered daily during the summer months and can be booked in advance or upon arrival.

How much time do I need? – Allow at least two hours to explore the garden at a leisurely pace. If you’re a keen botanist, you could easily spend an entire day wandering the paths.

What should I wear? – Dress comfortably in shoes suitable for walking on uneven terrain. Layers are recommended as the weather can be unpredictable.

Are dogs allowed? – Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome in the garden, but not in the Visitor Centre or Cafe.

Nearby Places to Visit

You should also think about some of the other nearby places, including:

  • Land’s End – Around 45 minutes by ferry from St Mary’s plus onward travel, Land’s End headland in mainland Cornwall offers stunning cliffside views and coastal scenery like Dr Syntax’s Head and Longships Lighthouse.
  • Isles of Scilly Museum – Found on St Mary’s, learn about the history and culture of Scilly from 17th-century architecture models to traditional pilot gig rowing boats, local artworks plus archaeology and geology displays.
  • King Charles’ Castle – Accessible only at low tide on the northern tip of Tresco, explore this picturesque ancient ruined artillery fort with beautiful coastal views of neighbouring islands.
  • Porthcressa Beach – Located near Hugh Town, this is one of St Mary’s most popular beaches with beautiful white sand and azure waters.
  • St Mary’s Boatmen Trips – Take relaxing wildlife spotting or island hopping boat trips to see birdlife and marine mammals around uninhabited islands like Teän or the Western Rocks.
  • Tresco Estate Walks – Choose from 25 miles of waymarked footpaths to see wildflowers, seabirds and views of Samson, Bryher and other islands from beaches, headlands and hills in Tresco’s scenic coastal scenery.
  • St. Agnes Lighthouse – Visit the iconic candy-striped granite lighthouse on St Agnes, Scilly’s southernmost island. There are also coastal walks to spot grey seals and seabirds like skuas and shearwaters.
  • St Martin’s Vineyard – St Martin’s island hosts vineyard tours and tastings showcasing the first and only vineyard planted in Scilly producing white wines.

Whether you want to relax under swaying palms, enjoy cream teas beside the abbey ruins or simply soak up the lush gardens, a trip to Tresco Abbey is a heavenly way to spend a day. Its location may be remote but this Cornish Caribbean certainly delivers on tropical charm all summer long!

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