Tresco Gardens

Learn about this unique garden on the Isle of Scilly

Garden Museum

Top Euro (Bri- E) Scilly IslesLIFE Photo Collection

Augustus Smith established Tresco Gardens after purchasing the lease for the Isle of Scilly in 1834 from the Duchy of Cornwall.

Top Euro (Bri- E) Scilly IslesLIFE Photo Collection

He picked the area around the remains of a Benedictine abbey at Tresco to build his home and garden. Their unique location just 30 miles of the coast of Cornwall provided unique growing conditions which allowed plants from around the world’s temperate climatic zones to flourish.

Tresco Gardens, Isles of Scilly (c.1910) by Cicely Frances Dorrien-SmithGarden Museum

This painting 'Tresco Abbey Garden' is by Cicely Frances Dorrien-Smith and shows the garden in around 1910 when many large palms and evergreens had already been established. Her father inherited the gardens from her uncle and she was born in Tresco in 1882, the fifth of seven siblings.

Sadly she died in 1915 in her early thirties whilst working as a volunteer in troop canteens in northern France during the First World War.

Top Euro (Bri- E) Scilly IslesLIFE Photo Collection

Around this time a large expansion to the garden’s collection was undertaken by Cicely’s brother Arthur Algernon Dorrien-Smith. He made many trips to South Africa looking for suitable trees and plants.

Top Euro (Bri- E) Scilly IslesLIFE Photo Collection

He joined the 1907 Sub-Antarctic Islands Scientific Expedition, carrying out magnetic observations in the Auckland and Campbell Islands. Following the expedition he travelled widely in New Zealand, as well as making a shorter visit to Australia collecting more plants. In 1909 he again visited Australia, New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, returning on SS Athenic. By this time he had amassed a total collection of plants and seeds of about 2280 specimens.

Tresco Abbey Gardens (1960) by Gwen Dorrien-SmithGarden Museum

This painting 'Tresco Gardens' is signed by Gwen Dorrien-Smith and dated June 1960. The majestic phoenix palms stand pre-eminent amidst echiums and gazanias. It was painted by Cicely and Arthur’s sister Gwendolen Dorrien-Smith who was born in 1883, a year after Cicely. She too volunteered during First World War, but in Red Cross hospitals in the England, France and Belgium.

The Abbey Gardens, Tresco, Isles of Scilly (1920) by James GibsonGarden Museum

Although Tresco Abbey Gardens were private they regularly opened to the public becoming a popular tourist excursion. Postcards such as this one from 1920s enabled visitors to post a memento of their visit.

Tresco Abbey Garden Notice, Isles of Scilly (1965) by A H Read &SonGarden Museum

This admission notice dating from around 1965 politely asks visitors not to pick the flowers as it is hoped the plants will naturalise and to refrain from lighting fires as they pose a risk on the Island.

Credits: Story

Written and researched by Alison South, Curatorial Volunteer

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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