Tresco is the second largest of the Isles of Scilly, which are 28 miles west of Land’s End. It’s very small, only one mile by two, but the island is steeped in history.
In 1834, when Augustus Smith left Hertfordshire to become the island’s Lord Proprietor, making Tresco his home, he made some vast alterations. Smith modernised farms, encouraged a flower business and built schools, making education compulsory 30 years before the rest of Britain. The famous sub-tropical Abbey Gardens were his creation too. Surrounding the ruins of the 12th-century St Nicholas Priory, are 20,000 exotic plants that thrive year round in their subtropical environment. A walk through the network of terraces and walled gardens carved into rocky slopes is akin to a horticultural world tour, seeing plants from 80 countries. Four generations have continued to add to the collection and the gardens are now considered to be at their most spectacular. Devastating storms in 1987 and 1990 wiped out swathes of plantlife but after careful reconstruction in the hands of current owners Robert and Lucy Dorrien Smith, the garden was beautifully restored.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the weather, winter never really gets a grip on Tresco and the garden enjoys an extended period of autumnal flowering, with Protea, Aloe and flowering camellia gracing the season. During the spring and summer months look out for Leucadendron, Aloe, Banksia, Callistemon, Dryandra and Cape heath. A highlight of the Abbey Garden visitor experience is the Valhalla collection, an unusual exhibition of some 30 figureheads, nameboards and other ships’ carvings amassed by Augustus Smith and successive owners. The collection has a sad history in part, comprising items salvaged from local shipwrecks dating to the 1800s.
For history beyond the garden, tour the island’s other landmarks, including the ruins of Civil War strongholds defiantly set against Tresco’s stunning natural beauty.