Tresco Abbey Gardens enjoy an international reputation and are particularly noted for the collection of subtropical plants and trees. There are 20000 plants and it is claimed that more than 300 will be in flower on any day in the year. There are plants from South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and S E Asia. Many of the plants could not survive in Cornwall, just 30 miles away.
The garden was initially created by Augustus Smith. In 1834 Smith was granted a long term lease for the Isles of Scilly by the Duchy of Cornwall and became Lord Proprietor. He built his home amid the ruins of a priory – hence Tresco Abbey.
Smith was an enthusiastic gardener and recognised the possibilities offered by the mild climate of the Scilly Isles. He maximised this potential by constructing walls and terraces and by planting trees to protect his plants from the excesses of any Atlantic gales.
Augustus was a bachelor and when he died his estate was inherited by his nephew, Thomas Algernon Dorrien-Smith. Successive generations of Dorrien-Smiths have, to this day, each made a significant contribution to the development of the Gardens.
With so much to choose from, I hope the following selection will suffice as an appetizer!
See also The head in Tresco Abbey Gardens, Dreaming of Childhood and Shipwrecks and Valhalla
The list of wrecks in Scilly waters numbers more than 530 and in the 18th and 19th centuries there was an urgent need for improved navigational aids. In addition to those mentioned in the previous post, several lighthouses and lightships were added, especially in the expanse of water between the Islands and the tip of Cornwall. On a clear night, from Peninnis on St Mary’s it is possible to see the beams from nine other lights.
Of the many shipping disasters recorded by far the greatest occurred in 1707 when Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his fleet were returning to Plymouth following the failed siege of Toulon. Having been driven off course strong winds, navigational errors led to his ship, HMS Association, and three others crashing on to rocks just south west of where the Bishop Rock lighthouse now stands, with a loss of almost 2000 lives. Ironically, this greatest of peacetime maritime disasters in British history happened before the advent of telecommunications or even newspapers as we now know them, and it was several days before the scale of the disaster was reported.
The Association also carried in its cargo silver and gold coins, together with cannons plundered from an earlier mission. The site of the wreckage was eventually located in 1964 and some of the treasures were auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1969.
In recent times, in 1967, the Torrey Canyon ran aground on the Seven Stones reef, about eight miles north east of St Martin’s, loaded with 120,000 tonnes of crude oil. The spillage of almost 31,000 gallons was washed up on the Cornish coast with devastating consequences for seabird and marine life.
Around 1840, Augustus Smith, the ‘Lord Proprietor’ of Tresco, began to assemble a collection of retrieved memorabilia, mostly figure heads from wrecked sailing ships and early steam ships. He created a gallery – appropriately called Valhalla – in the Abbey Gardens on Tresco. The pictures below are from the collection.