During our trip to England in June/July of 2006 I was constantly delighted by the blooming hedgerows, brilliant red poppies in canola fields, roses frothing their way to rooftops on beautiful old stone buildings, and also the brilliant flower baskets which hung outside every pub and from lamp posts in cities and villages alike.
However, it was not until we visited Tresco Abbey Garden on one of the 5 inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly (1), 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, that I was completely fascinated by what I found there.
The Garden dates back to 1834 when the then lord proprietor of Tresco, Augustus Smith, began building a garden around the ruins of St. Nicholas Priory (which in turn dates back to 964 AD).
I am sure that when he began, Lord Smith would have appreciated the wonderful old arches and stone walls of the ruined Abbey as protection for his plants. However, over forty years he imported and planted many of the sometimes large and exotic specimens seen in the gardens today, and his descendants, the Dorrien-Smith family, have continued to develop the gardens for more than a hundred years so that today it has grown to cover 17 acres, and also houses a magical collection of figureheads (known as Valhalla) from the many wrecks around the Scillies. It has been described as 'a perennial Kew--without the glass' and is one of the most remarkable sub-tropical gardens in the world, where even bananas, date palms and citrus flourish in this south-west extremity of England, which owes its relatively mild climate to the influence of the warm Gulf Stream.
There are some 20,000 species from 80 countries and include the lovely cypress and Californian Montery pines, with their distinctive silhouettes, forming part of an important wind break, allowing some of the more tender plants to flourish. (Unfortunately, the fierce gales in 1990 destroyed many of these trees but they have since been replanted.) Succulents appear everywhere in the garden and are grown in such interesting ways, including mesembryanthemums which give wonderful patches of colour as they grow on and over the lovely old grey stone walls.
There are so many beautiful and interesting features to this garden, but what really excited me were the bromeliads--and not just any old bromeliads, but some of the biggest, most fascinating specimens that I have ever seen.
These included the giant Puya chilensis, P. alpestris, with their metallic blue flower spikes (blooming at the time of our visit) and P. berteroniana. (This latter species is so similar to P. alpestris that it has often been mistaken for it; however, P. berteroniana is a much larger and showier plant, with leaves reaching 4 to 5 feet.)
In a lovely article on puyas, Alasdair Moore of the Tresco Abbey Garden (2), tells us that, "The basic form of these species is a large rosette of slender, pale green, blade-like leaves, which make for a plant both striking and graceful. Over the years...
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