We were fortunate to pick two sunny days for a trip to the Isle of Wight.
During the trip down Southampton water we saw the Ovation of the Seas, a new 168,000 ton diesel-electric driven cruise liner She is undergoing inauguration event prior to her maiden cruise to China. She will operate between china and Australia.
From Algernon Swinburne’s home, East Dene at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, we walked down to Horseshoe Bay and along the Eastern Esplanade to Ventnor. The sea sparkled blue in the sunshine and waves rippled along the Esplanade defences. On our other side are the low white chalk cliffs.
I remember Ventnor as a sad and decaying seaside town but now things are changing. There are restorations, rebuilds and developments. One house on the front has been restored to a delightful gem of a villa; as if straight from the Mediterranean. Art Deco style buildings look smart and the shabby amusement arcade is now boarded up awaiting its turn for improvement. The beach is clean and inviting.
Steephill Cove and Botanical Gardens
We refused the invitation to swim though some hardy souls were in the sea. On to the Cliff Top Walk and down into Steephill Cove. This cosy cluster of cottages and huts can only be reached on foot. We sat in the café in the sunshine overlooking the flowing tide.
A steep but short climb took us up to the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. These date from Victorian times when they were part of a large tuberculosis hospital. We no longer need TB hospitals and it has gone but we have the remaining gardens. Ventnor Botanical gardens survived periods of care notably by Sir Harold Hillier and periods of neglect and devastation. The modern garden originates from restoration after the 1987 storm.
The Undercliff Climate
This part of the Isle of Wight south coast is known as the Undercliff, a south facing slope protected from the north winds and with a smaller than average rainfall. The temperature is on average 5oC higher and rarely has a frost. The climate is favourable for Mediterranean and semi tropical plants.
Plants of Interest
A fun plant is the Old man of the forest, Cephalocereus senilis, he is not really from the forest as he likes dry and sunny conditions but he does look like a hairy old man.
There are some Wollemi Pine, a tree thought to be extinct but rediscovered in recent times. There is a collection of Puya plants from tropical America. One of these, Puya chinensis, is known as a sheep eating plant. Sheep get their fleece tangled in the barbs of the plant, become immobilised and starve to death. The plant then feeds on the decaying remains the following year. A plant related to Puya is a pineapple.
A group of Chusan Palm, Trachycarpus fortuei (Chinese windmill plant) are the oldest palms in the country. It is a tough palm with a hairy trunk, as thick in the short young tree as in the older and taller ones.
Just now, the magnolias are at their best. Some with large flowers, some with small. Colours range from white through pink to mauve and purple. An advantage at Ventnor is that the slope allows you to be above the trees and look down on the blossom.
Ventnor Botanical Gardens does not confine you to the paths but you are encouraged to walk on the grass and among the plants. For any plant lover, here is an opportunity to see plants from Australia, South Africa and the Americas. You may eventually find your way to the restaurant to refresh yourself before the onward journey.
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