The gardens are the most outstanding feature of Tresco, started by Augustus Smith in the mid-1830s. When he began his work, the area was a barren hillside, a fact that visitors now find hard to believe.

The gardens are a nature lover's dream, with more than 5,000 species of plants from 80 different countries. The old abbey, or priory, now in ruins, was allegedly founded by Benedictine monks in the 11th century, though some historians date it from A.D. 964. Of special interest in the gardens is Valhalla, a collection of nearly 60 figureheads from ships wrecked around the islands; the gaily painted figures from the past have a rather eerie quality, each one a ghost with a different story to tell.

If time remains after you visit the gardens, you can explore the meadows and coastal fields that surround these gardens. There is no particular trail to follow. Just wander at leisure through the fields and across paths made by others who blazed these trails before you. You can walk along the dunes, which are often thick with heather, enjoying the wildflowers, the birds that fly overhead, and maybe some shell collecting. The seabirds are so fearless that they'll land within a foot or so of you, looking for a handout.