I’ve compiled a list of the four best of the best gardens this spring, to make sure that you don’t miss out on the most beautiful blooms as the warm weather approaches on holiday in Dorset this year.
Sculpture by the Lakes
Perhaps the most special and most secret of all of the gardens, Sculpture by the Lakes offers a complete escape as you enter a most magical world where art meets nature. Sculpture by the Lakes was created by renowned sculptor Simon Gudgeon and the 26 acre park provides an oasis for art lovers and creators alike. Simon’s vision was to create an environment for enthusiasts that blends nature’s beauty with inspiring works of art, free from the constraints of enclosed spaces of a more traditional gallery. The sculpture park has been carefully landscaped and curated to ensure that each piece of work is positioned to enhance its aesthetic qualities, as well as the visual surroundings. You are therefore presented with a unique artistic wonderland, in which behind every tree, shrub and body of water, there is a new piece of sculpture waiting to dazzle you. Entry to the gallery is completely free, and no dogs or children under the age of 14, including babies, are allowed on the premises, ensuring that you really can get away from it all from as short as an hour or two, or as long as a whole day.
This is the garden closest to my heart, as it was somewhere I spent lots of time with my family as a child, running in and out of the trees and pretending that my siblings and I were in fact in our very own secret garden. Stourhead is in the care of the National Trust and is a 1,072 hectare estate at the source of the River Stour, offering neo-classical gardens. Winding paths lead through the estate, past duck-laden lakes, over quaint bridges, through partially submerged grottos and through little caves, giving a wonderful sense of adventure throughout your visit.
If you are a keen horticulturalist, then you can soak up hours of plant-finding quests for the rarest and most beautiful specimens, or simply while away the hours eating a picnic and watching the world go by, reading a book or people watching as hundreds of people enjoy the spring colours. Parking at Stourhead is free for National Trust members, so remember to display your window sticker in your car if you are a member. Regardless, you need to get there early for your visit in order to make the most of it and to enjoy a quiet morning for the gardens before it gets too busy through the day as the weather gets warmer.
The gardens stretch for 393 acres of parkland and a further 12 acres of gardens. The formal gardens and pleasure grounds are situated close to the house, with an area of informal pleasure grounds extending to the south east. Two features are the Cedar Walk and the Lime Walk, both majestic avenues to the south of the house, as well as a plantation known as Blind Wood. There is a terrace in front of the house with urns and vases, overlooking an extensive lawned area. Other features include a Victorian fernery and a sunken garden. To the west of the house, there is a rose garden with a central circular lawn. The kitchen garden lies to the south of the pleasure grounds and is now a commercial nursery. The gardens are extensive enough that you can find a quiet corner with not another visitor in sight and enjoy a few moments of tranquility watching the birds and butterflies. Alternatively, take a book to read and lose yourself in all of the colours of spring, brushing off the cobwebs and looking forward to the lighter and brighter days ahead.
The English country house in Wilton has been the seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years. The house and gardens have been open to the public since 1951 and the 14,000 acre estate is home to the current Earl William Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke. The house is renowned for its stunning gardens; Isaac de Caus began a project to landscape them in 1632, laying out one of the first French parterres seen in England. The original gardens included a grotto and water features. Later, after the parterre had been replaced by turf, the Palladian Bridge over the little River Nadder was designed by the 9th Earl, one of the 'architect earls' with Roger Morris (1736–37). Empress Catherine the Great commissioned a copy, known as the Marble Bridge, to be set up at the landscape park of Tsarskoye Selo.
In the late 20th century, the 17th Earl had a garden created in Wyatt's entrance forecourt, in memory of his father, the 16th Earl. This garden enclosed by trees, with herbaceous plants around a central fountain, has done much to improve and soften the severity of the forecourt.