Club Tropical – Six Exotic Gardens to Visit Across the UK
With the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge currently on a family holiday on Tresco, Isles of Scilly, our spotlight is on the most beautiful tropical and subtropical gardens to discover across the land. Summer holidays have arrived and garden visiting, of course, is the perfect social distance activity. With all this balmy weather, there is no better time to explore the banana trees and giant palms of some of our exotic plantings, often created by explorers and plant-hunters in surprising places, from coastal idylls to city gardens.
Abbey Gardens, Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Owned by the Dorrien-Smith family since its creation in 1884 by an ancestor who leased the land from the Duchy of Cornwall, Abbey Gardens is a rare find. Set 28 miles southwest of Lands End, and now reachable by helicopter from Penzance, the Abbey enjoys a glorious climate surrounded by turquoise sea. Planting across 17 acres includes treasures from Burma, South Africa and Brazil which create a blaze of colour around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey founded in 964 AD. The Duchy of Cornwall has several holiday cottages to rent on the island, including the handsome Dolphin House, which is currently hosting the young Cambridge family.
Inverewe Gardens, Poolewe, Scotland
The vision of one Victorian eccentric, Inverewe gardens have to be seen to be believed. Nestled on the shores of Loch Ewe, the 50-acre garden was created out of barren land by Osgood Mackenzie in 1862, whose family were ancient chieftains in the area. The Rhododendrons flower year-round here. They come from China, Nepal and India to this corner of the highlands, and sit among prehistoric trees, Himalayan Poppies and Tasmanian Eucalyptus. Seek out the wildlife hide to watch otters and seals gamboling in the waters and the Pinewood trail for its views.
Lanhydrock, Bodmin, Cornwall
The rolling valleys around Bodmin is the setting for one of the grandest Victorian gardens laid around a stately home. Lanhydrock, now owned by the National Trust, is described as ‘dazzling’ and features botanic delights such as Himalayan Magnolia (there are 120 species of magnolia here) and trees dating back to 1634. Afternoon tea here is as much of a Cornish treat as the gardens. This is authentic clotted cream land. Watch out for the bronze urns brought from Paris’ Chateau de Bagatelle in 1857.
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Near Weymouth, Dorset
This winner of Christie’s Garden of the Year started life as a humble kitchen garden in 1765 and now contains a vast array of rare and magnificent tropical plants. A short drive from Weymouth on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, Abbotsbury has a quiver-full of interesting facts. Created by the Ilchester family, whose town garden was Holland Park, the estate drifts down to the famous Chesil Beach so perfect for a summer day out on the coast. Highlights include Citronella mucronata from Chile brought by the 4th Earl of Ilchester as well as wonderful succulents from the famous Italian garden of La Mortola. The recent heatwave during lockdown caused a Brazilian-origin plant, Gunnera Manicata, to unexpectedly grow to an area 160-feet and is big enough for a whole family to shelter under!
Trebah, Near Falmouth, Cornwall
One of the great gardens of Cornwall, Trebah is heaven by the coast and a true British escape. It has just been awarded a covert gold accolade by VisitEngland. There are over 4 miles of footpaths to meander along. In summer, the Gunnera is a breathtaking jungle while the garden’s private beach on the Helford River offers swimming and picnics – don’t forget to have a clotted cream ice cream! The upcoming film The Secret Garden has been filmed here and its dramatic vistas and Water Garden make for luscious viewing.
Portmeirion Village, Gwynedd, Wales
While not strictly just a garden, Portmeirion, a pastel-coloured village created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis, on the north coast of Wales, has a distinctly Mediterrean feel and a renowned subtropical forest. The woods are known as The Gwylt and feature some of the country’s biggest trees as well as a Pagoda-strewn Japanese Garden and a Ghost Garden plus a free train ride which children will enjoy. Much of the vibrant collection of Monkey Puzzle, Camellias and Giant Redwood pre-date the village and make for a fabulous coastal cornucopia. Wales is made exotic here and Portmerion is well worth the journey. We love The Unicorn to rent with its pink Palladian facade and views over the sea.