The Abbey Gardens

In “Welcome to the Isles of Scilly,” I gave you an overview of this beautiful island chain and introduced you to some of the main places my heroine, Libby, visits in The Nature of a Lady, including a quick peek of the Abbey Gardens, with a promise of more to come. So today we’re going to focus solely on that tour of the Gardens!

Libby convinced her maid, Mabena, to take her to Tresco one Tuesday. It’s a twenty or thirty minute sail between the two biggest islands, and if visitors want to head straight to the Gardens, they’ll usually choose to dock at Carn Near. From there it’s an easy walk to the island’s main tourist attraction.

In the time of my story, 1906, visitors would have still rung for entrance and signed in by placing their names in a visitor’s book. I can only imagine the names that would be written in that over the decades! According to Guide to the Isles of Scilly by Tonkin and Tonkin, written in 1882, the book contained the signatures of many royals and nobility.

The Isles of Scilly have long been a place of many shipwrecks, and that storied history is on display in the Garden Lodge, where figureheads of wrecked ships are arranged, along with old anchors and other nautical memorabilia. One of the former lord proprietors is responsible for what was, by all accounts, an artistic and evocative display.

The Paths through the Abbey Gardens

The Lodge puts you out on what is called the Avenue, and various paths diverge from it into other areas like “Wilderness” and the “Long Walk,” which is the main road through the Gardens. The Gardens are arranged by region, with plants from those regions transporting visitors all around the world. The Wilderness is awash with ferns from all over the empire. 

Immediately upon exiting the Lodge, the Avenue will lead you to one of the many sculptures to found in the Gardens, of Neptune.

From there you’d enter Lower Australia, filled with exotic ferns, aloes, and bamboo. Then comes Higher Australia, with plants from New Holland, Tasmania, and more. You’ll find a cinnamon tree, Winter’s pepper, and the white-blossoming Hakea trees. The most popular tree in the gardens, however, is the Australian iron bark, known as the “blazing bush.”

The Long Walk

This section puts you out at the Long Walk, a path about eight hundred feet long. Strolling along this walkway will show you palms, dracaenas, gum trees, aloes, cacti, azaleas, fuchsias, and more. Smaller paths diverge on both sides, showcasing plants that truly vie for the eye with all their beauty. Together they create a picture to take your breath away—but you’ll want to draw it in again quickly, just to smell the beautiful fragrances always on the air.

With plants from India, China, Japan, and many more countries all nestled amidst the Abbey Gardens, visitors truly get the sensation of traveling the world over.

Counting the Blooms

Each New Year’s Day, the gardener and his team count the blooms and record them. Newspapers all over England have articles sharing the flower count; while it’s still mid-winter everywhere else, the Mediterranean and subtropical species in the Gardens are bursting with life and reminding the rest of Europe that spring is on its way.

I don’t know what the flower count was in 1906, but I daresay it was similar to what it was in 2021—there were an amazing 225 plants in bloom on January 1. You can read the article all about it here.

Ruins of the Old Abbey

In the Gardens you can also find the ruins of the old Abbey, which are now integrated into the garden display itself. You’ll walk through its arches, pass its well, and peer through its crumbling ruins into more flower beds.

In addition to things like an Italian pebble garden where a variety of bulbs flourish, there’s also a vineyard, fig trees, and aloe plants that take up to twenty years to fully mature and bloom. The gardener has also long tended fruit trees like plum, apple, and pear, and vegetables and berries are also grown here.

Libby quickly decided that she could spend a whole lifetime exploring the Abbey Gardens and studying each of the hundreds of species that grow here but can be found nowhere else in England.

Wouldn’t you love to stroll down the Long Walk with Libby and Oliver? I know I would!

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