A sub-tropical garden in the British Isles



I am on Tresco at the moment, one of the islands that make up the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago near the tip of the South West Peninsula of Cornwall. I am here to do work experience at Tresco Abbey Gardens for two months. My first task here was already markedly different in this sub-tropical garden stemmed from a private vision of paradise, instead of raking up the usual leaf litter of things that I was accustomed to on mainland UK like oak, hazel and beech, it was Brachyglottis repanda and Cordyline.

Tresco is not your average British garden, it is full of exotics that one could only usually grow in a greenhouse in the UK. Here Lampranthus, Aeonium cuneatum, Echium, Geranium maderense, Doryanthes and Agapanthus are just a few of the standard fare that self-sow & roam freely around the garden and on the island. Euryops pectinatis, Agyranthemum and Osteospurmum are the garden plants of choice (all in flower). The oddity of New Zealand & Australian plants flowering now, probably confusedly, when it should be for them the height of summer if they were back in their native land. What I've seen as the odd specimen plant, grow tall, abundantly and rampantly here like Fascicularia bicolor and Luma apiculata. What I thought were Kniphofia were tall Aloe arborescens.



Aloe arborescens, with Quercus ilex tree behind it with long tresses of Mulenbeckia trailing off it.


Aeonium cuneatum aka Scilly Cabbage self-sown itself up a tree.

When they checked in the New Year around 250 plants were flowering. This is made possible by the unique coastal and microclimate that they have, although they're in the atlantic ocean, the warmer Gulf Stream runs through here, keeping the environment rare of frost and the temperature hardly ever goes below -1 or -2°C. The surrounding Cupressus macrocarpa, Pinus macrocarpa and tall Quercus ilex hedges makes an important windbreak that gives the garden shelter.



A feat to cut - Quercus ilex hedge. For the top, a ladder is laid across and one has to walk out on it, in order to be able to cut it.

The garden has a latitude of 30 - 40° and a hardiness zone of 9, so many plants from places like South Africa, the Canary Islands, the Mediterrean, California, Mexico, Chile, Australia & New Zealand can be grown here, but not too far into countries like Brazil. The whole garden is on a southward facing slope broken into four main terraces, the further up the slope the drier and less fertile the soil is and more exposed to too. So generally New Zealand plants like ferns & tree ferns Cyathea medullaris & Dicksonia antartica are grown at the bottom and lots of plants from the Protaceae family, many of which are new to me, are positioned at the top, like Leucadendron, Hakea, Banksia and Grevillea, this suits them well as they love to be well ventilated and prefer less nutrients.



Leucadendron argenteum growing tall and freely on the driveway and pretty much everywhere else in the garden.


Protea longifolia

There is pretty much a place plant to site ethos going on here. The soil is generally quite thin, if you  dig too just a little bit down you hit granite, it is also very acidic - ranging from a PH of 4-5. At the bottom where the ferns are, the ground is more moist as it is fed by a freshwater lake nearby.



The lock to the lake where excess freshwater that doesn't feed into the garden is let out, but they have to be careful that it is shut when the tide comes in, as letting salt water in would be a problem.

Rainfall here is also very light. My first week has involved picking up litter on the beach in strong wind & rain, because many plastic bottles have blown on shore from recent stormy weathers and digging out Rhopalostylis sapida - the Nikau Palm - the only palm endemic to New Zealand; the Māori people have had many uses for it from eating the bases of the inner leaves and flowers to using the leaves to wrap food in cooking and for weaving baskets, floor mats, and thatching waterproof roofs. Not such average work for a not so average garden.

During my time here I will be revealing the history and more unique features about the garden and the island, giving highlights of what I do, documenting plants, and talking more about why I have been interested and chosen to work in this garden as one of my adventures.

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