Summer Gardens of Dorset – Day Three

A coach tour of six gardens in three days is just enough, I feel all gardens-out now. It has been a really wonderful holiday, meeting interesting people, eating lots of cake, drinking copious cups of tea and coffee as well as a lot of laughs playing impomtu very silly games in the evening.  The last two gardens of the  Saga Summer Gardens of Dorset tour were Compton Acres and Cranborne.

  • Compton Acres, Poole, Dorset


Built into the side of the Poole cliffside, Compton Acres  has five area, an Italianate Garden  consisting of a Roman Courtyard, a Grotto and a Grand Italian Garden pictured above.  Here you will find the traditional topiary, statues and pond, all giving the balance and symmetry required to create a peaceful and calm atmosphere.  Water is also hugely important in the garden design creating a relaxing mood.   I wasn’t sure about the bright red begonias, I find them too bold and certainly not conjusive to a calm feeling.  However, the experts know best, although I do wonder if the original Italian gardens had bright flowers, and if so maybe they used pelargoniums rather than begonias?


The Japanese Garden has lots lush greenery and water. It seemed that wood painted red was a recurring theme of this garden tour, found on the Monet style bridges in Abbotsbury and Bennett’s Water Gardens (Summer Gardens of Dorset – Day Two) and today at The Japanese Tea House.

Apart from the Italian Garden, if you are not expecting lots of colour and flowers and are happy with woodland areas, waterfalls and a sub-tropical style garden then Compton Acres is just for you.  Personally, I was getting weary of all the green and longed to see flowers other than rhododendrons and azaleas.    I was therefore looking forward to our last garden, Cranborne Manor Garden.

  • Cranborne Manor Garden, Cranborne, Dorset

Although usually only open to the public on a Wednesday, we were granted the privilege of being able to visit when closed.

Cranborne Manor Garden surrounds the old Manor House (not open to the public) and has a number of different areas managed by two gardeners.

The kitchen garden, as expected, had a cutting flower patch with a fabulous border of roses underplanted with dianthus, making for a wispy effect.

The garden is not regimentated, all the planting was soft and gentle, giving a natural effect – just my type of garden.   Walking around you will come across a Sundial Garden, North Garden, Cottage Garden as well as several others.  As with touring holidays you are quite time restricted : “…you need to be back in the coach by xx o’clock..” so sadly the chance to have a good old amble and see everything is lost.

A couple of us tried a plant finder app PlantSnap.  Once I got the hang of the correct way to snap and upload a photo it worked fairly well. An internet connection is important and a lot of the gardens didn’t have any reception which was a bit frustrating.  The above were correctly identified as Philadelphus, Sweet Pea and Penstemon. I had hoped it would tell me the varieties but it wasn’t always that sophisticated, although it did correctly identify a salvia as ‘Amistad’.   With an iPhone and a good clear photo it is a very useful app and fun to use.

  • Saga Special Interests Holidays

I really enjoyed this tour and going on my own wasn’t a problem at all, everyone was so friendly, but then we did all had a common love of the garden.  The age group was mixed from about late 60 to late 80 and it didn’t matter at all, the more able helped the less able and everyone joined in.  Our Saga Rep, Sue, was a bundle of fun from beginning to end, hurding us up and skilfully dealing with any issues.  We had a most enthusiastic and knowledgeable host, a horticulturalist of 35+ year experience, who walked and talked us around the gardens.  I will certainly go on another one – maybe Gardens of North Wales next year.

Summer Gardens of Dorset – Day Two

  • Abbotsbury, Sub-tropical Gardens

Before I started this garden tour I told friends that one of the gardens was Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens the first reaction of those who had been there was “Oh, you’ll love it!”. They were not wrong.

The weather was a mixed bag – just right for wandering around but it was misty with low cloud so the promised views of Chesil Beach and St Catherine’s were not there.

Most of us, (it was a Saga holiday after all), managed the steep slope to the top of the magnolia walk for the view of Chesil Beach, a piece of geography we probably all learned about at school. Even I was breathless at the top and I walked up with a 87 year old lady who did better than me.

Being a sub-tropical garden, and mainly in shade, as well as the many unusual plants there were well known and recognised shade loving plants including Hostas which, most annoyingly, were not being ravished by slugs and snails. I wish I knew how they managed that.

The tree ferns Dicksonia were magnificent and looked especially good in this dell with the red Monet style bridge in the background – you have to look carefully to see it.

What was special was that we were able to see how our every day garden roses would grow in the wild. It never occurred to me that roses would naturally clamber up tall trees. The above rose is called Rosa Spring Bride. Isn’t it wonderful!

The other climber that was particularly striking was a honeysuckle which I unfortunately failed to take the name of. Shortly after we arrived we met with Stephen Griffith the curator of Abbotsbury. He told us that Roy Lancaster gave them this honeysuckle saying it would flower eventually and when it did they would be in for a treat. This year it did just that!

Just a few more photos above of the lush plants at Abbotsbury, started by the 3rd Earl of Ilchester in 1808 and added to by the 4th Earl, who was a botanist. The 5th Earl of Ilchester devoted time to the care of the garden and trebled its original size. It became home to one of the finest plant collections in England.

Feeling very brave some of us, including me, walked across the rope bridge. I did feel a little sea sick when it started to bounce and swing.

I was struck by the tranquility of the garden, a silence and peace broken only by the birds. I only wish I knew more about birdsong other than only recognising the most common birds such as blackbirds, magpies and blasted seagulls! I’ve added a snippet video for you to listen to.

  • Bennett’s Water Gardens

After lunch these gardens were the second garden visit of the day. Bennett’s Water Gardens hold the National collection of water lilies. It is a small garden with a number of ponds transformed in 1957 from an old brickworks. I admit I was a little dubious about looking at water lilies as they have never been of much interest to me, but have completely changed my mind. Sadly this is one garden that needs to be seen in person as my photos really don’t do it justice. The eagle eyed of you will see another red bridge in the background, it seems a common theme of today.

I jokingly made a comment about not being able to label these plants as the were all in the water … WRONG! Amazingly every variety was labelled.

Water lilies always look like waxed flowers and I was surprised as to how many varieties, colours and sizes there were. Definitely you would find one to suit any water feature whether large or small.

The little ‘pink perfection’ would be ideal for a tiny water barrel. Whilst if you wanted impact the wonderful red Chateau Rouge below couldn’t be missed by anyone walking by.

My favourite was Sunny Pink. I saw this peachy/yellow water lily from the other side of the pond and made a beeline for it – definitely my number 1 choice.

There were also some interesting marginal plants including deep purple irises and lots of pretty pink flowering rush.

Bennett’s was certainly a most enjoyable surprise and whilst it may only take a few hours to visit it is well worth it.

Tomorrow we are visiting Compton Acres and Cranborne.