Dorset is one of the most beautiful counties in the UK, and there is plenty to see and do. One of the most pleasurable activities to partake in, however, is visiting Dorset’s many delightful gardens. There is nothing better than surrounding yourself with pure English countryside, and visiting a Dorset garden is a great way to do so.
Great British Gardens, a fascinating resource for the nation’s favourite garden destinations, spoke to us about what makes visiting gardens so attractive to us Brits:
“Brits love visiting gardens for many reasons – we are a nation of gardeners so we are keen to see the creations of others. We may love seeing the different plants to get ideas for our own gardens, we may be artists or photographers, we may be designers or historians, we may not have a garden, but perhaps most of all we enjoy a great day out in beautiful scenery followed by tea and cake!”
Great British Gardens were also kind enough to lend us a hand in running down Dorset’s very best offerings, suggesting three wonderful locations that those staying at a holiday cottage in Dorset should be sure to visit.
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
“Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens – these beautiful gardens, with views to the Jurassic Coast, are open all the year round, with a great café and Plant Centre.” – Great British Gardens
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens are situated near Weymouth in a sheltered spot that has allowed many wonderful subtropical plants to grow among the native species of the country. We spoke to Abbotsbury curator Stephen Griffith and asked him to describe what makes their gardens such a highlight for visitors:
“Abbotsbury is one of the few gardens in Great Britain that can boast a truly remarkable micro climate that ensures mild winters can enable exotic and architectural plants to grow outside all year without the need for glasshouse protection. This is also an historic landscape with the origins of the walled garden going back to 1765.
“The woodland valley has a meandering stream with ponds and tropical palms, bananas, giant bamboo and beautiful magnolias, rhododendrons and herbaceous borders that create the atmosphere of being in some exotic paradise in the tropics. There is a rope bridge that spans a pond with tree ferns and giant Gunnera adding to the lost jungle feel and the Old Colonial restaurant has echoes of Raffles of Singapore with its red tin roof and wooden veranda surrounded by subtropical foliage and colourful flowers.
“Another feature is the ‘Jurassic Coast view point’ which is a steep climb up the hillside between the woodland to a magnificent view of the whole of Chesil beach and the famous Jurassic Coastline
"Mapperton Gardens – A hidden gem deep in the Dorset countryside with a historic Manor House and Italianate Garden.” – Great British Gardens
Open from March until October, the picture-perfect valley gardens at Mapperton surround Mapperton House, and provide a wonderful venue for a Dorset day out. We spoke to Caroline Montagu of Mapperton Gardens who described what’s on offer:
“Mapperton Gardens are enclosed in a steep Dorset valley or coombe, which is part wooded, part pasture and all within Dorset's AONB, so the countryside outside the gardens is a joy to see. The gardens start on the same level as the house with a big, flat lawn flanked by an 18th century wall with flowering shrubs and trees. The next level down is the Fountain Court, a topiary garden in the arts and crafts style, established in the 1920s and continually refurbished for nearly the last hundred years. Now we have many more plants and shrubs along the borders and more roses in the pergola.
“The next level down shows off more topiary, flanking two long pools, the lower of which has water lilies and gold fish. The upper pool probably dates from the 17th century when it may have been attached to a water mill. Below that is an arboretum of specimen trees and shrubs put in by the current owner's father in the 1950s and 1960s - which has fantastic autumn colour especially from the mountain ashes and the maples.
“The gardens are peaceful, remote and beautiful but they also flank the wonderful sandstone manor house. Climbers, roses and shrubs grow up its walls providing texture and colour through the year. Magnolia are flowering now in August, and in September and October the salvias will provide a display of red, blue and purple.
“I have been working on the gardens for over 30 years and I still get a sense of peace when I am in the Fountain Court. I look out at the unspoilt, lush Dorset countryside and hope it will stay like this forever.”
“Compton Acres – Includes an Italianate Garden, a Japanese Garden, and one of the largest rock gardens in England with views to Poole Harbour.” – Great British Gardens
Dating back to 1920 when it was constructed by Thomas Simpson, Compton Acres is known as one of England’s finest privately owned gardens. Its 10 acres are a perfect spot to relax in with luxurious fountains, winding pathways, and England’s largest rock gardens. There is a true plethora of plant life to find here with over 3,000 species that are bound to delight.
There is more than just beautiful plants at Compton Acres, however, with a café, tea room, and Sunday lunch all available to visitors.
Athelhampton House & Gardens
Originally designed in 1891, the sophisticated and formal environs of Athelhampton Gardens should most certainly be on your list.
Located near the historic town of Dorchester, and surrounding the house which was built in 1485, the gardens here are replete with formal architecture and idyllic woodland scenery. One of its most striking features is the Great Court, containing memorable pyramid shaped yew trees. Additionally, the property’s canal, octagonal pond, and river walk, are a wonderful way to explore some natural beauty.
The house itself provides the chance to explore sublime Tudor architecture, and The Coach House Restaurant offers a popular menu and licenced bar to cap the day off in perfect fashion.
Knoll Gardens in Hampreston is a nationally recognised natural garden and nursery that has a speciality in ornamental grasses. Knoll Gardens told us about what makes them such an attractive proposition for visitors:
“Knoll Gardens takes its inspiration from the natural world. Its naturalistic planting style mimics nature, to create a glorious garden packed with year-round interest and beneficial to wildlife. Informal plantings of glorious grasses and flowering perennials take centre stage, and are set against a magnificent mini-arboretum of rare and unusual trees and shrubs to create a real sense of seclusion amongst the ever-changing vistas.
“Knoll’s owner, Neil Lucas, is the UK’s leading authority on ornamental grasses, and gardeners looking for practical planting ideas will not be disappointed. His Mediterranean-style gravel garden frequently features in the national press: his Sunny Meadow is a tapestry of flowers throughout the season. A new sedge meadow took its inspiration from the Californian style and showcases the pure effects of soft green foliage when seen en masse.
“Knoll’s event programme includes walks, workshops, wildlife days, and masterclasses. The Chelsea Gold Medal-winning nursery also offers planting advice whilst Knoll’s website provides a comprehensive insight into how to recreate the garden’s relaxed style and bring a flavour of the natural world into your own garden.”
Dorset is a true delight to visit and its gardens are just part of why making the county your next holiday destination is such a smart move. We spoke to the Dorset Tourism Awards about why the county is so successful at attracting visitors:
“Dorset is an outstanding destination with a blend of history, scenery, food, drink, attractions and events that put the county amongst England’s best.
“That is why the Dorset Tourism Awards were launched back in 2013 – to help highlight the county’s appeal and its rising stars. The awards have since grown each year in numbers of participants, with more and more going on to win both regionally and nationally.
“In 2016 the Dorset Awards attracted 107 entries, with three of these going on to become finalists in the national VisitEngland Awards. The Anchor Inn in Seatown was judged to be England’s ‘Tourism Pub of the Year’, while the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum was a finalist in the Small Attraction category.
“You can see all the recent Dorset Tourism Award winners at www.dorsettourismawards.org.uk”