Compton Acres is one of the UK’s most important ornamental gardens. Located in the upmarket area of Canford Cliffs near Poole, it’s a fantastic place for a day out. A gold winner in the ‘Best Small Tourist Attraction’ category at the South West Tourism Awards, it was also awarded Dorset Tourism Small Attraction of the Year’ at the Dorset Tourism Awards in November 2015. Owner Bernard Merna invited us to take a tour – what better place to visit in the Year of the English Garden. We were accompanied by my Aunt who’s a keen gardener and able to ask our guide all sorts of intelligent questions. Whilst I’m a fan of gardens and flower shows, my horticultural knowledge is rather more limited!
Created in 1920 by Thomas William Simpson on a wild moorland site, it features over 3000 plant varieties spread over 10 acres. It’s a fantastic example of an Arts and Crafts style garden which took the idea of garden rooms and created a series of contrasting designs, resulting in five distinct gardens. Just after the entrance, the charming Roman Garden leads into an illuminated grotto popular for wedding photos.
Compton Acres has actually been voted best wedding venue in the world for the past two years in The Wedding Industry Experts Awards and they hold 150 weddings each year. The Italian Villa built in 2005 is the dedicated events space and has access to the stunning Italianate Gardens. These were created without the help of machines and include typical Italian features such as fountains, topiary and columns. These support swags of clematis, a stunning sight from late Spring onwards.
There are some interesting statues here including the Athletes of Herculaneum. Cast from bronze and named after the ruins of Herculaneum in Italy, they make an imposing feature. The statue of Bacchus, Roman God of wine, is made from Carrera marble and beautifully detailed. He is depicted here in his youth whilst at the opposite end of the garden there’s a mask portraying him in his later years. In Summertime the pond’s water lilies are a delight to behold.
The Wooded Valley is a shady area of mature Scots Pines interspersed with sunlit flower glades. At the time of our visit in Spring, the daffodils and narcissus were out in force, as was this wild beast 😉
It’s also a great place to see camellias and rhododendrons.
The path curves round and up and down so I’d recommend wearing flat shoes, though it’s easily manageable. In fact, Compton Acres have thoughtfully noted both a path route and a steps and bridges route. I loved this contrast between the black grass and the white snowdrops.
There’s a lovely little waterfall cascading down through this area.
It leads on to the Rock and Water Garden, one of the largest privately owned rock gardens in England. Hundreds of tonnes of rock were used in its construction and there are some beautiful ornamental trees including a weeping beech and mature dwarf conifers as well as 300 types of rock plant.
Peeking through the bridge, you’ll spy the Solitaire statue of a dancer…
Created by former dancer and now sculptor Tom Merryfield, the arch of the feet is staggeringly lifelike.
Continuing our journey, one of my favourite areas is the Heather Garden. I’d first visited Compton Acres gardens many years ago and even then couldn’t resist posing with this dashing gentleman!
Originally the setting for Thomas Simpson’s cactus collection until their loss in World War II, this area was then remodelled as the heather garden. With over 100 different types of heather, it looks spectacular in early Spring, as I hope you’ll agree.
From here you come to a Sculpture Trail which features an interesting array of African sculptures.
Round the corner there’s a fantastic view towards Brownsea Island and it’s castle from the Harbour View Café.
The Japanese Garden is another highlight and considered to be one of the best examples of its kind in Britain. The design and construction of the tea house, summer house and pathways were supervised by Japanese craftsmen.
The pool is filled with Japanese koi carp and the stone, bronze and copper artefacts were all imported from Japan. Most of the plants are Japanese in origin, including the azaleas, bamboo and maple trees.
Make time to visit the plant centre and gift store after visiting the gardens. There’s some really unusual jewellery, homeware and gifts.
The cosy tea room is popular for cream teas and there’s also outside seating for when it gets warmer.
The garden is continually being improved and soon the planting of Spring flowers near the Japanese garden will commence. I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Compton Acres and do try and visit if you can to admire it yourself.
Are you a fan of gardens and do you have a favourite one that you recommend?
Compton Acres, 164 Canford Cliffs Road, Poole, Dorset BH13 7ES