A unique experience for a young horticulturist – the Elizabeth Hess Scholarship at Tresco Abbey Garden

The Elizabeth Hess Scholarship at Tresco is awarded annually by The Studley College Trust in memory of Miss Hess who was the last Principal of the College (1956-1969), who died in 1996. The Scholarship continues the Studentship which has enabled students to train at Tresco Abbey Garden since 1976, many of whom have progressed to notable positions of responsibility in horticulture.

The objective of the Scholarship is to provide the recipients with the opportunity to be a student-member of a well integrated staff in a long established famous garden, developing a wide range and level of skills to maintain the diverse and unique collection of plants, many from the Southern Hemisphere, collected for over 160 years.

The award is made to young horticulturalists who have secured a basic qualification in vocational horticulture and plan a career in both private and botanic gardens. In co-operation with Tresco Abbey Garden, the award provides all the funds and facilities for a year’s training and applicants are selected by interview from a shortlist each Spring for the following September. Interviews take place at RHS Vincent Square, London – or virtually depending on COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time.

Tresco Abbey Gardens

Tresco Abbey Garden ©Mike Nelhams/Tresco Abbey Gardens

These unique gardens of international repute are situated on Tresco Island in the Isles of Scilly (30 miles from Land’s End). The Gulf Stream ensures a very equable climate but the islands are exposed to severe Atlantic gales.

The garden was created in 1834 when Augustus Smith leased all the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall and built himself a house on Tresco. He laid out the garden in the form of terraces which form the backbone for today’s garden.

His nephew, Thomas Algernon Smith Dorrien, later changed to Dorrien-Smith, continued his uncle’s work and planted the necessary windbreaks, consisting mainly of Pinus radiata and Cupressus macrocarpa. The trees provided a very good initial screen and in turn were supplemented by tall clipped hedges that enable a very rich flora of tender plants to be grown in the open. The plant collections are particularly rich in species from the Southern Hemisphere and collections from every Mediterranean climate zone of the world are represented.

The island is now under the ownership of Mr & Mrs Robert Dorrien-Smith who reside on Tresco with their family.

Further information about Tresco and the Isles of Scilly available on the Tresco Island website. For specific information about the Scholarship, please see the Tresco Abbey Garden website.

Tresco Island ©Mike Nelhams/Tresco Abbey Garden

Scholarship details

The Scholarship provides for scholars to receive a practical training in learning, growing and displaying an extensive range of Mediterranean climate zone plants. The Scholarship starts in September for 12 months.

Students will be under the direct control of the Curator and Head Gardener and will be regarded as a member of staff. They work a 40 hour, 5 day week with annual holiday allowance, currently 20 days plus bank holidays. Overtime is paid when you exceed your 40 hours.

The value of the Scholarship is approximately £17,800 per annum taking into account the bursary of £5000 paid direct from Studley College, £5,000 food allowance from Tresco Island and accommodation provided free of charge that would otherwise be in the region of £7,800.  In addition the outward and return fares to Tresco are also paid, along with any mainland travel expenses. 

The accommodation is provided at no cost to the student in a shared flat with your own room.  It has full central heating, shared lounge, fully equipped kitchen and bathroom.  A TV is in each bedroom and there is also a TV and DVD player in the lounge.  Tresco Island pays the council tax, electricity and Wi-Fi so there are no bills to pay.  Bedding and towels are provided and they are laundered and ironed each week at no charge.  A washing machine and dryer is in the flat for your personal items.  A library of horticultural books is available in the garden office for study and you also have Wi-Fi provided in the accommodation for research.  The student will also benefit from exchanges with other gardens during the year with all expenses paid.

There are facilities for the pursuit of other interests and sports on the island such as gig racing, cricket, bird-watching, and water sports.

The experience will of greatest benefit for a student who already has a basic qualification in horticulture and plans a career in private and botanic gardens. This experience will provide valuable professional status in seeking a post in other great gardens in this country and abroad.

Miss Elizabeth Hess NDH VMM

Elizabeth Hess started her career in horticulture as a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. From there she moved to Swanley College, Wye as Foreman in charge of the playing fields and pleasure grounds. A scholarship to Brooklyn Botanic Garden gave her valuable experience and she then returned to this country to work for the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes during the war. Her experience and work fitted her to then become an HM Inspector for Schools.

Miss Hess was appointed Principal of the Studley College for Women in 1956 and she continued in the post until the college closed in 1969. During that time she worked tirelessly for the college and students and raised the profile of the college by exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show and the Royal Agricultural Show. The first ever Farm Secretarial Course was initiated at Studley in 1961. After the college closure, Miss Hess continued her work for many years by her involvement with the Studley Trust and in 1967 was honoured by the award of the RHS Gold Veitch Memorial Medal for her services to horticultural education.