Dorset tour

Our tour to the beautiful rural county of Dorset was based in Shaftesbury, a Saxon hilltop town, but now known for the “Hovis” advert which is filmed on the steep and picturesque Gold Hill. Dorset features many beautiful gardens and we managed to pack nine of these into a busy week that also included a stop in Salisbury, a visit to the Swannery at Abbotsbury and a stop to admire the Cerne Abbas Giant! We began in damp and windy weather with a visit to Chiffchaffs near Gillingham, a real ‘cottage’ garden built up over the last 37 years and now extended into neighbouring woodland with many different trees and shrubs. Packed with colour and variety, the various garden ‘rooms’ provided us with some shelter for our picnic lunch followed by tea and cake.

This contrasted dramatically with our next visit to Sherborne Castle, originally the home of Sir Walter Raleigh. The 50 acre lake and sweeping ‘Capability Brown’ landscape provide a glorious setting for the castle and its more formal gardens which include magnificent ginkgo trees. The walk around the lake revealed other champion trees, shrub planting, a wisteria hung bridge, a cascade, the ruins of the original medieval castle and wonderful views over lake and countryside. Late spring is the time for rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias. These came in abundance in the amazing garden at Minterne that according to its owner was probably the best it had been for many years. A deep valley with a stream and cascades was so crammed with colour and variety that it felt like a jungle in the afternoon heat. The many wonderful and rare trees and shrubs come from plant-hunting expeditions to the Himalayas. The jungle theme continued with even greater effect at Abbotsbury where a mild micro-climate by the sea allows rare and tender plants to grow. Towering trees provide protective cover for a vast collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, palm trees, bamboos, a Mediterranean bank garden, a stream with lily ponds, and giant gunnera plantings taller than a person. A steep climb to the edge of the garden revealed a breathtaking view of Chesil Beach.

The gardens at Mapperton and The Old Rectory at Manston provided a more formal experience.  Mapperton is a stunning 15th and 16th century Manor House now much used in filming. A croquet lawn gives way to a 1920s’ Italianate garden complete with topiary, fountain, summer house and orangery. This sits above 17th century fish ponds, which in turn lead to a lower garden planted with specimen trees and shrubs in the 1950s. The Old Rectory has a beautifully restored formal garden with lawns, mature beech trees, 120 foot herbaceous border, yew and box hedging, knot garden and walled kitchen garden. A wild flower meadow and woodland extend it into the surrounding countryside. This felt like the archetypal English garden as we enjoyed coffee and cakes in the tranquil morning sunlight. Coombe Cottage in Shillingstone is a small village garden, profusely planted with cottage favourites, mixed with more unusual plants including late-flowering subtropical specimens. Every inch was planted up with space only for a large greenhouse to protect the more tender varieties. The six acre site at Lawsbrook featuring over 200 mature and unusual trees was the surprise of the tour. We were taken round by the owner whose father started the garden in the 1950s. He gave us a most lively and entertaining account of the work that he and his father had carried out, in addition to their day jobs, to develop what is now an amazing woodland. Many of the specimen trees are now enormous. Walking through the glades in the afternoon sun with the owner as guide was a wonderful experience. More tea and cake on the lawn in the sun made for a graceful conclusion.

Not many gardens could top all this, but Stourhead provided a more than fitting conclusion to our tour. The 18th and 19th century landscape surrounding the lake was at its peak. The wooded slopes were bright with spring tree foliage and studded with glowing rhododendrons. The blue lake and the contrasting white temples shone in the morning sunlight making a truly Arcadian scene.

The tour was arranged by Brightwater Holidays, and we had an excellent guide in Marion Mako.


2015-06-01 Salisbury Cathedral 2015-06-01 Salisbury Close

2015-06-01 Salisbury Mompesson House 2015-06-01 Salisbury Arundells


2015-06-01 Chiffchaffs garden 2015-06-01 Chiffchaffs garden2

2015-06-01 Chiffchaffs garden3 2015-06-01 Chiffchaffs garden tea

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2015-06-04 Shaftesbury Gold Hill2 2015-06-04 Shaftesbury Gold Hill3

2015-06-05 Shaftesbury hotel 2015-06-05 Briefing on coach

Sherborne Castle

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2015-06-02 Sherborne Castle3 2015-06-02 Sherborne Raleighs Seat

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2015-06-02 Minterne1 2015-06-02 Minterne2

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2015-06-02 Minterne church 2015-06-02 Minterne13 2015-06-02 Minterne8

Mapperton House

2015-06-03 Mapperton Orangery 2015-06-03 Mapperton10

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2015-06-03 Mapperton13 2015-06-03 Mapperton House

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Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens & Swannery

2015-06-03 Abbotsbury Gardens5 2015-06-03 Abbotsbury Gardens4 2015-06-03 Abbotsbury Gardens2

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2015-06-03 Abbotsbury Gardens CGC 2015-06-03 Abbotsbury Swannery

Old Rectory Manston

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2015-06-04 Old Rectory Manston3 2015-06-04 Old Rectory Manston1

2015-06-04 Manston Henry Rosemary1 2015-06-04 Manston garden6

2015-06-04 Manston garden5 2015-06-04 Manston border2

2015-06-04 Manston border1 2015-06-04 Manston garden1

Coombe Cottage & Shillingstone

2015-06-04 Coombe Cottage Shillingstone CGC 2015-06-04 Coombe Cottage2

2015-06-04 Coombe Cottage3 2015-06-04 Willows Margaret Ruth

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2015-06-04 Coombe Cottage Shillingstone4 2015-06-04 Coombe Cottage4


2015-06-04 Lawsbrook2 2015-06-04 Lawsbrook3

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2015-06-04 Lawsbrook7 2015-06-04 Lawsbrook Wallemi pine


2015-06-05 Stourhead1 2015-06-05 Stourhead CGC

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2015-06-05 Stourhead Marion4 2015-06-05 Stourhead grotto10

2015-06-05 Stourhead Marion3 2015-06-05 Stourhead Apollo temple 21

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