Tresco Abbey Garden’s curator MIKE NELHAMS on his love of island life and how weather and its effect on the sea shapes the botanical oasis. Interview: Rachel Homer
The first thing I do in the morning is look at my windsock to determine the wind direction, as its reading will direct my day. The weather is the most important factor in maintaining the exotic plants and we are so in tune with the sea that it is part of the garden’s landscape. My work involves looking after 17 acres of a botanical garden that is like no other in Britain, possibly Europe. We grow 20,00 species of sub-tropical plants from coastal regions all over the world.
As a student at RHS Wisley, my strongest interest was tender plants, and I was lucky enough to gain a scholarship at Tresco Abbey Garden, part of the Isles of Scilly. I was invited back in 1984 as head gardener and am now curator. The garden’s success is not just its variety of plants, but the fact it’s positioned on this beautiful island.
Abbey Garden is so diverse: on a wet day, I enjoy walking around the area surrounded by large leaf trees from tropical regions shining in the rain; or, when the sun is shining, the Top Terrace explodes with colour, so your experience changes immensely. During the winter months, when most gardens in Britain are at their lowest ebb, Tresco’s plants from the Southern Hemisphere are merrily flowering away, giving us an all-round display.
Island living is very different from the mainland; you’re close to everything and everyone, so the feeling of community is unique. My memories of family holidays as a child were the excitement of that first glimpse of the sea as you drive out of the valley. It was special then, and now I get the same feeling every time I return home to Tresco. I am working with plants I love in a place I love.
For more information, visit tresco.co.uk or follow on twitter @TrescoIsland.