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Tresco Abbey Gardens - a Painter's Paradise

  • 6 min read

Artists John Dyer and Joanne Short painting in the Tresco Abbey Gardens on Tresco, isles of Scilly

Above: Artists Joanne Short and John Dyer painting in the Tresco Abbey Gardens

Tresco Abbey Gardens is one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. Situated on the island of Tresco - part of the group of islands off the tip of Cornwall called the Isles of Scilly, the gardens are full of tropical plants and flowers, towering palms, magnificent proteas, agave, and many, many other exotic plants.

Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Painting the Colours of the World, Tresco'

The beautiful beaches and wild spring flowers on the island of Tresco are a delight to behold. Artist John Dyer and Joanne Short have been painting and drawing in the gardens for many years. The wild birds and animals, such as golden pheasants and the reintroduced red squirrels, are a joy to watch. If you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature and a sub-tropical climate, Tresco Abbey Gardens is the perfect place for you.

Signed Limited Edition Print. 'An Explosion of Colour, Tresco'. By Cornish Artist Joanne Short.

Happy holidays on Tresco

Over the last 20 years, John and I have been lucky to visit the Island of Tresco several times. Each time we have combined a perfect family holiday with a glorious painting trip. It is always a joy to visit these islands and have the opportunity to capture the beauty and tranquility in paint.

John Dyer painting on the beach, Tresco

John Dyer painting on the beach with his youngest daughter, Wilamena, 2016

In 2002 we made our first visit. Our eldest daughter, Martha-Lilly, was just 3 at the time and what better age for a child to enjoy the safety and tranquility of island life. We cycled around the island freely, built sandcastles on the white sandy beaches, and swam in the clear turquoise sea.

Original Painting by John Dyer. Full Moon over Pentle Bay, Tresco. 
100 x 100 cm, acrylic on canvas

But best of all was the discovery of Tresco Abbey Garden on our doorstep. We were really lucky and had the run of the gardens when they were closed, by permission of the present Lord Proprietor, Robert Dorrien-Smith and his wife Lucy. They were away on a trip from the island and allowed us to stay in an apartment attached to the Abbey and access the gardens at any time. And what a joy that was!

Joanne Short painting in Tresco Abbey Gardens

Joanne Short painting in the Tresco Abbey Gardens, 2002

After a further trip the following year, John had an exhibition of his paintings in the art gallery on the island, 'Gallery Tresco'. It was so wonderful to have the work hanging on location, with beautiful views across the bay of New Grimsby. It was an exciting and successful exhibition which sold out immediately.

artist John Dyer at his private view, Gallery Tresco

Artist John Dyer at his private view, Gallery Tresco, 2005


Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Magical Evening, Beach Cottage, Tresco'

History of the gardens

The history of the Abbey and the gardens is fascinating. In 1834 Augustus Smith became the Lord Proprietor of the Island of Tresco where he built his new home and named it Tresco Abbey. Around the same time, Augustus started to create a garden on the south side of the Abbey around the ruins of the original Benedictine abbey.

Walls and terraces were built around the gardens to protect the new plants and a shelterbelt of trees was created to protect the garden from the southerly gales. The resulting tropical gardens have been described as "Kew without the glass".

The next 4 generations of the family continued to expand the Tresco Abbey gardens and bring in plants from all around the world, especially from the southern hemisphere, creating what today is a world famous paradise, loved by both gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

Tropical species of plants were collected from Burma to South Africa and from Brazil to New Zealand, creating what is now a spectacular collection of rare and wonderful plants, many of which are found nowhere else in the British Isles. And many others that only flower in this glorious location.

Painting in the Gardens

Because of the sheltered aspect of the sub-tropical Abbey Garden and its warm climate, we were always able to find places to paint out of the wind, and there was always so much to paint!

John Dyer, Cornish artist, painting in Tresco Abbey Gardens

Artist John Dyer painting in the gardens

We would sit on the ground surrounding ourselves with spectacular plants - towering great blue spires of Echiums, sumptuous large pink buds of the King Protea, shocking pink drifts of daisies.

Artist Joanne Short painting in sunny Tresco Abbey gardens

Joanne Short painting in Tresco Abbey Gardens

Various Islands

We discovered that Tresco island was the perfect base to explore the other islands of St Agnes, St Mary, Bryher, Samson and St Martin which make up the Scilly Isles. Small boats pick you up from various landing quays around the island and whisk you off for a daytrip to another island. There are regular trips, all dependent on tide times and water levels. On a spring low tide you can almost walk from one island to another over the glistening white sand.

St Mary's

St. Mary's is a laid-back, comfortable and safe haven away from the stress of city life. The shoreline has large expanses of deserted white sandy beaches, spectacular rocky coves, magnificent seascapes, beautiful treks and pathways along miles of coastal and country footpaths and nature trails. It is the biggest and most inhabited of all the islands and the Harbour at Hugh Town is where the Scillonian ferry brings passengers from the mainland daily.

'Bobbing Boats, Hugh Town, St Mary’s’. 24x24 inches oil on canvas by Cornish Artist Joanne Short, £1,395

St Agnes

St. Agnes, on the most south-westerly point of the Scillies, is a completely unspoiled and serene destination. It's only a mile or so long. From stark rock outcrops on its exposed west side to paradise beaches in its more protected coves, this is an island of contrasting beauty. The tranquility of the sandbar between St. Agnes and Gugh is particularly powerful. A lighthouse overlooks the island's highest point, while tiny cottages dot the landscape inland.

St Martin's

The island of St. Martin's is home to a variety of unique and beautiful features. Lawrence's Bay is a rocky area perfect for exploring. The white sand of Par Beach is perfect for relaxing, and the stunning plant life and wild flowers are a sight to behold. The rare birds that make their home on the island are also a popular attraction. In addition, the island offers sensational views of the sea. Just off the coast, there are colonies of seals that can often be seen basking in the sun. With so much to offer, it's no wonder that St. Martin's is such a popular destination. Visitors to the island can enjoy hiking, swimming, and kayaking. There are also several boat tours that offer stunning views of the coastline.


Bryher is an island of dramatic contrast, with pounding Atlantic waves on one side and peaceful sandy beaches on the other. There are around 80 people who live there. The famous Hell Bay hotel has received a number of accolades for both its food and accommodation. 

'Agapanthus Days at Hell Bay, Bryher' by John Dyer. Available as a fine art open edition print.

Painting Trips

Over the years we have visited several times and stayed in various locations on the islands. We have spent days at a time sitting on beaches painting views of the stunning turquoise sea and amazing flowers that litter the island. Never have I seen Agapanthus growing wild, yet here they grow in abundance among the iconic white dunes of the famous sweeping Pentle Bay.

Signed Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Pentle Bay Days Tresco'

John has painted runners taking part in the Tresco Marathon and gigs preparing for the world championships. We've painted Hottentots along the shore, boats bobbing in crystal waters, echiums waving above tiny cottage garden walls and cyclists riding along sandy paths.

painting by John Dyer in the basket of a bicycle
A painting by artist John Dyer in the basket of his bicycle on a painting trip to Tresco

We have painted stone cottages nestling in the dunes, and beachside houses with magnificent flower gardens.

Signed Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Fun on the Beach, Old Grimsby, Tresco'

In 2006 we were filmed for a television program while painting in the Abbey Gardens. Despite trying to hide amongst the undergrowth, the cameras still managed to locate me and capture me painting!

The Isles of Scilly is a truly magical place. The Abbey Gardens are a particular highlight, with their stunning tropical plants and flowers. They provide a perfect backdrop for any artist looking to capture the beauty of nature on canvas. Whether you're an experienced painter or just starting out, Tresco and the Abbey Gardens are the perfect place to explore either with pen and paper or paint!

Signed Limited Edition Print. Tresco Abbey Gardens. 'Evening Light, Tresco'. By Cornish Artist Joanne Short

Prints and Paintings of Tresco

After hours of time over the years spent painting on location on the islands, we have a wide range of paintings, prints and posters available of the Isles of Scilly on our online gallery - the perfect way to take a bit of Island life to your home.

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