Garden blogging, Garden Visits, Saga Holiday

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.

Garden blogging, Garden Visits

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.

Garden blogging, Garden Visits

Summer Gardens of Dorset – Day One

Last year in July I went on my first Saga holiday to the Peak District on tour of six restored gardens and blogged about it when I returned home: A Garden Restoration Story. This year I decided to book myself on another of their special interest breaks and am in Bournemouth visiting six Dorset gardens. Rather than write one long blog post at the end of the holiday I have decided to write about our visits at the end of each day.

  • Minterne Gardens, Minterne Magna, Nr Dorchester

Minterne House is a private residence and not open to the public. The garden, accessed by fairly steep paths, is a sub-tropical garden Himalayan and Chinese plants brought back by Victorian plant hunters. It is full of rhododendrons and azaleas, although sadly most of them are now over. There were a few spectacular clematis scrambling up supports which added colour instead.If you have visited Leonardslee Gardens in West Sussex (due to reopen again early 2019 after being closed for several years) I think you may see a marked similarity, I certainly did. There were patches down in the bottom of the woodland walk of the most beautiful delicately coloured Candelabra Primulas. Such a pretty sight amid all the greenery of the Gunnera and ferns. Our guide had the idea we should pretend we were also trepid plant hunters suggesting we keep an eye out for plants. In the sub tropical growth we were able find (clockwise) Tradescantia Virginiana, Cornus Kousa, Northern Marsh Orchid and Primula Vialii.

I enjoyed my morning walk around Minterne and could have spent more time there but time was running out and we had to be back on the coach for our next garden of the day.

  • Athelhampton House and Gardens, Puddletown (yes really!)

This is a 15th Century Manor House with a 19th century Arts and Crafts garden, consisting of various rooms. We had lunch in the excellent cafe/restaurant before setting off on our second garden tour of the day.

The pretty 16th century dovecot, complete with doves, is covered with the most wonderful small white roses.

As you enter the gardens, the first garden has 12 giant Yew pyramids carefully placed so you can see the next garden through the gate opposite.

The above coronet walled garden room was circular, very sheltered and would not have looked out of place in the Painswick Rococo Garden. The colours in this room were mainly shades of pink and maroon with astrantia and a magnificent deep maroon Sweet William. The iris were almost over and the dahlias yet to flower; I bet they are also in shades of pink and maroon.

There is a white garden with a mass of white lavender in the throes of flowering and a small but packed rose garden. Whenever I’m gardening I always have secateurs in my back pocket ready to prune and deadhead. I was just itching to deadhead the roses a job which was badly needed to be done. It was fortunate I didn’t have them with me as I would have had to be held back!!

The delightful cottage in the grounds, with roses around the door, could also be seen from another garden room framed by a wrought iron gate.

Each garden room was colour themed and the above was full of purple salvias and yellow alchemilla mollis.

I could wax lyrical for hours on the above borders with their bluer than blue delphiniums, stipa grasses and deep red monarda contrasting with the silver blue of the eryngium. There is some debate on the red flower which has a heuchera leaf and I think it’s a heuchera ‘ Tokyo’, our Horti guide of some 35 years experience said it was London Pride but I beg to differ – what do you think?

Needless to say although I liked Minterne House and Gardens given the choice I would return to Athelhampton like a shot.

Tomorrow we visit Abbotsbury and Bennett’s Water Gardens.

Garden blogging, Garden Visits

West Dean Gardens Victorian Glasshouses

It is a pretty good bet that anyone visiting West Dean Gardens, near Chichester, will make for the Victorian Glasshouses no matter whether this is their first or one of many visits. On our recent visit we headed to the newly restored nectarine house.

The beautiful Glasshouses in West Dean were built in 1890 and 1900 and after sadly being allowed to fall into disrepair were restored in 1990. There are 26 glasshouses and the one above is number 25 – the nectarine house.

The most exciting thing I found on this early Spring visit was that all the nuts and bolts of the workings of a glasshouses were visible. The repairs to glasshouse 25 were completed mid 2017 and closed over the winter months, so we must have been amongst the first visitors now it is open. The gleaming white paintwork and the contrast of the delicate pink nectarine blossom against the stark white walls was awesome.

A glasshouse in West Dean costs on average £31,000 to £34,000 to repair taking two gardeners, two months to complete. The nectarine glasshouse used £900 of specialist durable paint and 264 panels of glass, all hand fitted. To help fund the restoration project West Dean launched a Save our Glasshouses Appeal in 2014. The glasshouses are repaired on a 4 year cycle and the next on the list are the tomato and peach houses.

You will see from the above notice that West Dean gardeners move things about to facilitate repairs. Instead of melons, we found a splendid display of pelargoniums, ferns and fuchsias. Again you could clearly see the amazing piece of machinery that open and close the windows.

In another glasshouse, we found a magnificent showcase of vegetables and herbs.

I have just upgraded my iPhone and am so impressed with the image quality. The photo below is one I took of purple pak choi. I apologise to my Nikon DSLR who will no longer come out with me on very many visits.

Just as we were leaving, I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the mechanics of a glasshouse. The glasshouses were built by Foster & Pearson a Sussex firm established in 1841 and still in business.

Other glasshouses were filling up with with trays of seedling getting ready to be planted out in the next few months for summer delights in the borders. These particular houses are heated and sunk slightly into the ground, entered by steps down.

Just to give you a taster of what else there is to see at West Dean, below is the Kitchen Garden, complete with boot scrappers on the eastern of each bed – something else you don’t notice when everything is in full summer regalia.

There is also an excellent restaurant where we had delicious homemade soup served in small cast iron bowls with lids. The restaurant is always a great place for lunch before walking around the estate, and tea and cake afterwards.

Acknowledgement to the West Dean Gardens website, where I found lots of background information about the resplendent glasshouses, please take a look and you can find out more about them and a link to the glasshouse appeal. If you have never been I really do recommend a visit West Dean if you are near, it is a delightful place with lots to see, as well as the glasshouses.

Garden Visits

Trials in 2017 at Parham Gardens nr Pulborough

I regularly follow Parham Gardens and head gardener Tom Brown @HeadGardenerTom on Twitter, so when not visiting the garden I manage to keep abreast of what they are doing. Each year Parham runs plant trials, and they are well worth a visit as it is a great way of making a note of ideas for the next year. I have an annual membership with a friend which has just run out, however remembering my Gardeners World magazine 2 for 1 admission card, we went on Sunday, especially to see their recent trial beds.

This year is the first year I have grown gladioli and was very proud of how successful they were. It was because of this I was really interested in other colours and making a note of the varieties I particularly liked for 2018.

It was with a strange sense of satisfaction to see that one of their trial gladioli was Peche Melba, the same variety as the one I grew this year. Mine were slightly paler than the trial ones but I suppose colours do change slightly from supplier to supplier.

Opposite is another trial bed with dahlias. I have fallen in love with dahlias this year and they really do seem to be back in fashion. I have decided to have pale colours of creams, apricots and soft pinks in 2018, rather than the dark reds and purples I grew this year. Despite the information board, unlike the gladioli bed with their numbered flowerpots, in order to find the name of the dahlias we found ourselves on our hands and knees looking for the plant labels. There were several I made a note of:




The third trial bed is full of Zinnias, in an array of colours from the brightest of reds to lime green.

In keeping with my 2018 idea of a pink/peach palette I liked the above Zinnia but as there were so many of them I couldn't really work out from the blackboard board what this pink one was called.

The purple and silver borders where looking fabulous, I love this colour combination, it is so soft and gentle on the eye.

Tom, the head gardener, has some very clever planting ideas, including the agapanthus growing in the Ammi Visnaga – I think it's Visnaga and not Majus – it was most effective anyway and another idea to take away with me.

The hot border was full of oranges and yellows, always a sight to behold.

Now, with apologies to Tom, I am going to be controversial here, regarding deadheading. My friend, a gardener by profession, and I had a bit of a heated discussion when we arrived at the long white border, full of Cosmos amongst other things. Personally I admit to having an obsession about deadheading and was disturbed to see so many Cosmos in need of deadheading and my fingers were just itching to get in there. He was saying that with a large garden such as Parham other things sometimes take priority and my argument was that at least one of the gardeners, or volunteers, must pass this border every day and if they stopped just for 5-10 minutes to daily deadhead, the job would be done without it building up and ending up looking uncared for. I don't know what others think – my friend walked off muttering something along the lines of "I'm glad I don't have to work for you"!!!

Although a regular visitor I often come across things I have not noticed before, either they are new or there is so much to look at I just hadn't seen them. I loved the curved flower beds placed along a low wall. Such simple planting which anyone with the smallest plot could copy which is a joy to see in a large garden with big borders bursting with plants. The pale pink zinnia and purple statice were a great combination.

I can't end a post about Parham without a mention of the glasshouse. Always full of interesting plants, and this delicate blue climber caught our eye. We hunted for a label but it was growing in amongst other plants we couldn't find out where the stem was so we're unable track down its name. However after tweeting a photo Tom Brown kindly came back with the answer – Plumbago 'cobalt blue'. Twitter is wonderful for gardening info and ideas.

During 2017 Parham is open in the afternoons (12:00 to 17:00) until the end of September on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays & Bank Holidays.  In October they are open on Sundays only.  Please note that days and times may vary on special event days and so please always check the website before your visit.

Garden blogging, Garden Visits

Parham Gardens on the Last Day of April

On Sunday 30 April, my friend and I dusted off our season ticket and paid a visit to Parham Gardens in Pulborough.  We are lucky that it is only 20 minutes away and makes for an enjoyable afternoon out, without much driving. 

There is a small restaurant called The Big Kitchen at Parham that serves a light lunch of soup, quiche and salad, with some delicious looking cakes.  So we tend to eat first and then wander around the garden.  There was a kitchen issue on Sunday, sadly only sandwiches and cake were on offer, but it didn’t stop it from being busy.  The little cafe just by the main garden entrance was also closed.

In the open entrance one of the building walls was covered with wisteria and a week earlier must have looked wonderful.  Sadly it had been caught by the frost, but those flowers that had avoided the frost looked spectacular.  

As we walked through the gate into the garden,  the purple tulips made a splash of colour, although they were almost over.   I love tulips at this stage, the petals are floppy and more colourful than when they are closed and the traditional tulip shape. 

It was here, it struck us as to the amount of frost damage which hit Parham.  We also wondered whether some of the wilted planting, especially the Buddleia, were also suffering from lack of water.  It hasn’t rained for weeks in our area so all gardens must be very dry, not what is needed during the growing season.  

Last year, May 2016,  I wrote about the tulip trials held at Parham (click here) and it was lovely to see the best of the tulips in flower beds in the walled garden.  Considering all my tulips are over, including the late varieties, it was so good to see these still in bloom. 

I managed to find the names for most of the tulips but the fringed orange one escaped me.  It is similar to my favourite tulip I grew at home this year called ‘Bastia’. 

There is a bed of Alstromeria with the tulips and that too had succumbed to the sudden frost last week.  It will recover but I wonder if this year it will flower as prolifically as it usually does. 

At this stage, my friend checked me in and I was told not to take anymore photos of frost damage, especially if I was going to blog about the garden, because it wasn’t fair, the garden is still beautiful and interesting, which of course it is! 

One very bright, striking border was the one above.   The black and orange tulips contrasted so well against the green.   These varieties are in my notebook for 2018. 

You will have already seen on the first photo of this post the meadow full of camassia.  Such an impressive plant and one I never think to have in my own garden.  This is probably because I first met camassia in this meadow and assume meadows are the place they grow.  There are also a lot of alliums planted here which will be in flower very soon.   

There is always a lull in the garden  between the colourful spring displays leaving a mass of green.  The clever planting of orange Geum breaks up the green until the alliums and peonies open, and they are not far off.

Talking about alliums, my one and only dislike are their leaves which always look so untidy.  I noticed in the Rose Garden (sorry no photos) that some of the alliums had their leaves stripped leaving just the flower stems remaining.  An interesting idea and one I might try.  

A season ticket is really good value if you are going to visit a garden regularly.  Ours cost £42 and weighed against the ticket price of £9 each for the garden only is excellent value, and has more than paid for itself, and you get 10% off plant sales!

Opening times:  Parham is closed Monday, Tuesday and Saturdays unless there are events, see below. 

House | 14:00 – 17:00
Gardens | 12:00 – 17:00
Big Kitchen Restaurant | 12:00 – 17:00
Last Admission | 16:30

Parham Nursery & Garden Shop open to visitors free of charge from 10:30am to 12 noon on standard open days and from 12 noon to 5pm for paying Garden visitors.

Parham always has interesting events, which you can find HERE.