Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Trip to Tresco

Back in May on our annual holiday to Cornwall we included a day trip to the Scilly Isles, and in particular a visit to the world famous Tresco Abbey Gardens, a delightful subtropical garden just off the coast. As we have done in the past we took the helicopter from Penzance heliport. Sadly this will be the last time we are able to make the trip via this particular route as the site has been sold off to be turned into yet another supermarket. There appears to be no replacement service in the pipeline from the southern end of Cornwall so in future we may have to take the ferry (several hours each way) or a helicopter from Newquay if a direct service is established. Perhaps next time we will have to stay in the Scilly Isles itself for a few days to make it worth while.

So as we were aware the helicopter service would be ending, we decided to make sure we didn't miss the opportunity to visit. We were joined by our gardening friends Chad and John for a great plant day to Tresco.

View of Tresco from the Helicopter

Just in case you had forgotten where you are....

Restoration and maintenance were ongoing whilst we were there
As well as having a large collection of plants, Tresco is also home to a collection of carved figures from boats wrecked on the rocks over the years. The figureheads in the Valhalla collection represent the final century in a tradition dating back over 3,000 years. From earliest times ships' bows have carried carvings of human or animal forms as part of the overall decoration of the vessels. The figures have altered over the centuries. Their pattern, size and shape have adapted to fit new types of ships' hulls, while their artistic style has changed to reflect contemporary fashions.  

Tresco Children sculpture by David Wynne in silhouette 
Despite it being a wet spring we had lovely blue skies for our trip. Meryta sinclairii
A selection of Cyatheas (C. medullaris, C. cooperii, C. dealbata)

Tall cyathea tree ferns do well in the sheltered and warm micro-climate at Tresco. The garden has many various tree ferns, generally all doing very well, as long as they are sheltered. The islands are battered by strong sea winds so shelter is essential for the tree ferns to do well.

Washingtonia robusta (left) and Rhopalostylis sapida (two on right)

As well as tree ferns, the gardens are home to a wide range of tender palms, the garden was hit by a cold snap in the late 1980s so the more tender plants are all less than 25 years old.

I'm not sure if we established the species of the tree in the middle (the genus is Metrosideros) of the picture with the path running through it, but with the association with palms it really gives a true jungle feel.

As you head up the hill slightly from the shady jungle, the garden opens up with an emphasis on succulents and more arid plants, these are still given a good level of shelter from the taller trees around the garden.

Large Agave americana variegata

Don't forget to look up! Some of the taller palms such as this Phoenix canariensis are covered in epiphytes, but with their heads above the shelter belt some look rather tatty.

Jubaea chilensis

We couldn't write a blog post about the Tresco Abbey Gardens without showing a couple of photos of the small portion of the ruins that remain.

The rocks are covered in all manner of succulents and other xerophytes
Tall Phoenix canariensis in the background and Cordyline indivisa in the bottom left

There are a number of both Phoenix canarienses and Cordyline indivisa across the garden, the Phoenix have clearly been in situ for many years.

Long gravel pathways dissect the garden, I love the pale Cornish granite chippings used for the paths. 

The upper terraces have a large selection of Proteas

Protea cynaroides

From the upper terrace a long flight of steps lead back down to the Tresco Children sculpture.

The view from the upper terraces back over the garden is quite impressive, The bendy Butia capitata in the photo above is interesting but always looks tatty.

A bust of Neptune at the top of the steps

Dasylirion serratifolium

Gaia, the Earth Goddess, surrounded by Cordyline indivisa

Looking back up the Neptune Steps to the bust of Neptune

Encephalartos lehmannii

Brahea armata

Sonchus fruticosus

360 degree Trachycarpus fortunei leaves

Schefflera digitata with juvenile leaves

Agave ferox

Xeronema callistemon

We have been to Tresco four times over the last few years, it seems strange to think that we will have to change the way we get there from now on, but despite that I know we will be back again soon!

Gaz :)


  1. I've always admired this garden from afar and love your tour! The climate sounds heavenly and makes me want to move there!

  2. I found your post on Paperblog. Tresco is on my "places to go" list and has been for a long time. Thank you for sharing your visit, it has made me all the more determined to go. So glad I found your blog.

  3. Every year I say I'm going to go over there and every year I don't make the trip. Maybe next year. But in the meantime those photos are a great reminder of what I'm missing.

  4. What doesn't this garden have? Trees ferns, agaves, protea, echium...good lord! It's beautiful! And a helicopter ride would just add to the allure, shame you'll have to alter your path in the future...

  5. Brilliant pics as always; so sad the helicopter service is ending.We are hoping to get one of the last flights in a couple of weeks when we have our week in St Ives. our last visit was in May and I'm sure I saw you guys but was to shy to come and say hello in case I was wrong!Tresco has all the plants I would love to grow,and the rest of the Isles are my idea of heaven. Just waiting for my lottery win to retire there!

  6. Outlaw, its a lovely garden, I hope you get to see it in person one day

    Ronnie, glad you found us, and hopefully one day you will get to Tresco!

    John, im glad the photos fill the gap for now.

    Loree, its a wonderful garden, we will be back, but as you say it will be a different path in future.

    Richard, I hope you enjoy your trip, if you see us again do say hi! A lottery win would be helpful :)

  7. Phew, how breathtaking is this, those Proteas are amazing. Shame about the helicopter situation, supermarkets have been both a blessing and a curse, so says this retired shopkeeper of thirty plus years.

  8. I've read about the Scilly Isles in the past. They have always seemed a paradise. Your photos prove that to be true. I think I'd prefer the ferry & a few days in the isles. May I go with you next time? Thanks for your recent comment.

  9. What a gorgeous place to go visit. I think I could have spent most of the day there. Fantastic photos. Shame you won't be able to visit again. Those Proteas are fantastic! Love the ruins.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  10. I love the tree ferns and the Trachycarpus fortunei leaves! And the ruins! I think a one day visit may not be enough. I would have to stay locally. Too bad about the helicopter service.

  11. Alistair, it really is spectacular, one of our favourite gardens anywhere.

    Jordan, they do seem to be blessed with a very kind climate, I think we will do a few days the next time, which will be good fun, I quite like the idea of a relaxing break in the Scillies.

    Debs, we always leave wanting more, one day is not really enough time to explore fully.

  12. Cher, hopefully we will still get to visit but it will take more planning and be less frequent.

  13. I read about the helicopter service ending - glad you got to make it in time. Looks amazing and how heartbreaking that 80's cold snap must have been! Dave

  14. WOW! What a great post & wonderful garden! Love the carved boat figures. For a moment there, I got a bit spooked when I thought I saw a four legged man wielding a sword, and then I realised I was wrong, lol. The Tresco Children sculpture looks lovely too, likewise, Neptune & Gaia. Does the path really go straight through the one Metrosideros tree? Thanks! :)

  15. Hi Dave, shame the helicopter service from Penzance has ended, such a convenient location to have one to the Scilly Isles.

    Thanks Lithopsland! Yes the path does go into it, showing how mild the area is to have such a tree growing to a great size.

  16. I recently came across your blog and this entry on Tresco Abbey, a place I'd love to visit. One day, I hope.

    You give lots of information about the plants and name some of the sculptures but there is nothing about the modern sculptures you show. Both look like they are made of metal.

    I'm curious to know your reaction to them. Do they add something to the garden or are they a distraction? I am a big fan of art in gardens but these seem out of place to me. I'm reluctant to make a judgement since I haven't been there, so would really appreciate your thoughts.


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