Our regular Tunnel Tours are currently postponed. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to enquire about a private tour.
Ventnor Botanic Garden has many secrets, some dating back to the days of the Royal National Hospital that formerly stood on the site. Underground caverns, secret passageways and a tunnel through the cliff can be found by the visitors to the Garden.
A proposal to dig a tunnel from the gardens down to the shore was mooted in the late 1800s. The Royal National Hospital annual report for 1875 states that “There can be no doubt that if the patients were able to obtain free access to the shore it would be very conducive alike to their recovery and their enjoyment.” Money for the tunnel at that time was not forthcoming and although it was built later, its function was by no means the rather romantic conception that has given rise to a good deal of speculation and comment; it was in fact used as a conduit for rubbish that was propelled through it and dumped into the sea. Steel tramlines are still visible on the floor. Exactly when the tunnel was built is unknown; possibly it was in relation to a new system of drainage and sewage disposal that was completed sometime in the 1880s. The tunnel was closed at both ends in 1940.
The 350 foot long vaulted roofed tunnel exits through the cliff midway down and is inaccessible. DO NOT attempt to locate the exit, or try to enter unless with one of our guides, as the cliff is extremely dangerous. Bolted gates are also in place for safety.
Rock Star Plants
Amongst the 6,000 species of plants grown here at VBG, some are particularly worthy of attention due to their rarity, prolificacy, diversity or variety. We call them our ‘Rock Star’ plants.
Flowering: May – June
The firework display of giant Echiums is one of the best known and loved features of Ventnor Botanic Garden. All varieties come from the laurel forests on the Canary Isles and Madeira. The one most often seen in gardens is Echium pininana, originally from La Palma. Other species are also grown here and cross with one another freely producing a whole range of perplexing hybrids. One species which is very distinctive is the true blue Echium gentianoides from La Palma, which has large sky-blue flowers and smooth, grey-green leaves.
Flowering: May – July
Another plant to look out for around the Garden are the very spiky leaved Puyas. This is one of the larger flowering Puya from the high latitudes of northern South America. With flower spikes up to 3m high, each flower spike is constructed of smaller branches of flowers, the ends of which are bare to allow birds to perch on them so they can drink the nectar inside. Pollination is carried out by the birds. Ventnor Botanic Garden has the National Collection of half-hardy and hardy Puya, comprising over 20 species in 77 accessions. The VBG logo is a close up image of a single Puya flower.
Flowering: All year
Red Hot Pokers or Kniphofia are one of the star plants of the Garden with their luxuriant clumps of foliage and large showy red or yellow spikes of flowers. In the wild, most of them come from South Africa. In the Garden we have a nationally renowned collection of Kniphofia including some, such as the true Kniphofia bruceae, which are endangered in the wild. There is usually at least one clump of red hot pokers flowering somewhere in the Garden in any month of the year. The best place to see them is in the South African Terrace.
The plant of the moment in August is the African Corn Lily or Agapanthus. There is a range of spectacularly showy species, hybrids and cultivars flowering throughout the Garden in various shades of blue and white. Many of ours are the more tender evergreen forms which originate principally from areas with winter or year round rainfall, such as the East and West Cape. Agapanthus is a plant considered to have both magical and medicinal properties by some native Africans. Here in the Gardens the forms known as ‘Ventnor Hybrid’ and others grow freely from seed and are starting to become invasive.