THE first plants have been installed at Sunderland's Winter Gardens.

A container load of more than 100 exotic plants, trees and shrubs arrived this week from Van der Arend Nursery, in Holland.

The plants, which come from temperate regions across the world, will take pride of place when the gardens open in the summer.

Colin Sinclair, Sunderland City Council's chief executive, said: "The start of planting marks a significant milestone in the construction of this magnificent landmark building and I'm delighted to see the plants arrive safe and well after their long journey."

The first consignment of trees includes the Phoenix Roebelinii, a seven-metre tall pygmy date palm.

Originally from Costa Rica, the fast-growing tree is expected to reach a height of 11 metres in the space of two years.

Other trees include the world's largest type of yucca, an 80-year-old Sicilian olive tree and a Johannis Tasmanica - a very rare species from Tasmania.

Once complete, the Winter Gardens will form the centrepiece of the £13m Mowbray Gardens scheme.

Plants have been chosen to appeal to sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, and there will be special trails looking at plants such as eucalyptus, camphor and ginseng, used in medicine, and tea, coffee, sugarcane and pepper, used in the food and drink industry.