The great gardens, inspiring landscapes and hidden gems of West Dorset and Somerset.

Tuesday 14th May - Tuesday 21st May 2024

A benign climate, breath-taking scenery and fertile soil have made west Dorset and neighbouring Somerset home to some of England’s most wonderful gardens (and gardeners).

Following on from its success in 2023, this late-spring tour is a perfectly timed introduction to English gardens for guests who intend to go on to the Chelsea Flower Show (21-26th May 2024). It embraces the parks and grounds of some of the region’s greatest grand houses and offers exclusive access to its very best private gardens. As well as formal gardens you will experience the wild landscapes of ancient woodlands and flower-rich meadows, at their Spring best.

We will be staying at the historic Symondsbury Manor, near the coast, to enjoy delicious meals and country walks. The tour will also feature talks and design ideas from some of the horticultural world’s most inspiring figures including Julian and Isabel Bannerman and Howard Sooley.

Tuesday May 14th

Arrive at Symondsbury Manor for tea. We have time to unwind and enjoy the garden before dinner. Simon Tiffin and Jason Goodwin will set the scene with an introductory talk on the history and gardens of west Dorset.

Wednesday May 15th

After breakfast we leave for Ashington, the 16th-century home of Julian and
Isabel Bannerman, garden designers by appointment to the Prince of Wales.

In his introduction to their book Landscape of Dreams, the King described the pair
as “worthy heirs of William Kent, one of the greatest and most creative of early
eighteenth century designers”.

As well as the King’s gardens at Highgrove, the dynamic duo have created the famous gardens at Trematon Castle and Houghton Hall. With towering yews echoing the old church, Ashington’s inspiring gardens are in fact brand new, created from rough turf during lockdown as ‘a joyous cross between a Kate Greenaway illustration and a medieval Book of Hours, with a nod to Alice in Wonderland’.

After lunch at The Plume of Feathers, a 16th century inn by Sherborne Abbey, we
travel to Cerne Abbas, which was once voted Britain’s “most desirable village”. 

Home to the priapic chalk-figure Giant, the village grew up around a great Benedictine Monastery that was largely destroyed during the Dissolution under Henry VIII. A section of the porch and St Augustine’s Well, reputedly blessed by the saint, remain. Jessica Fulford-Dobson, whose family lives in the Abbey Farm House, formerly the gatehouse to the Abbey, will host us, to guide us around the gardens she is restoring and the historic Abbey grounds. This an exclusive visit for G&T.  

Thursday May 16th

In the morning we leave Symondsbury to visit the nearby village of Stoke
Abbott, one of the most magical and secluded villages in Dorset. We’ll see the
charming gardens at Manor Farm, Simon Tiffin’s own home, and picnic in the
magnificent orchard, enjoying a talk by James Crowden, the poet and author
of Cider Country: How an Ancient Craft Became a Way of Life.

In the afternoon you are free to explore further this wonderful corner of west
Dorset. A walk along the nearby hollow way of Hell Lane or a trip to Lyme Regis
are excellent options.

Before dinner our special guest, the leading garden photographer Howard Sooley, shares his ideas and gives us advice on how to get the most from our
garden photography.

Friday May 17th

The morning is dedicated to exploring the magnificent grounds of Forde Abbey.
Founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks, there has been a garden at Forde Abbey for over 900 years. The formal layout was begun by Sir Francis Gwyn in the early 18th century and the following century saw the addition of walled gardens and formal Victorian borders.

For the last three generations, the gardens have been in the careful stewardship of the Roper family, and during his lifetime Geoffrey Roper planted more than 350,000 trees on the estate. The vast walled kitchen garden is a delight.

After lunch at Symondsbury Manor we visit the garden of Simon and Amanda
Mehigan at the Old Rectory in the nearby village of Netherbury.

Famed for its spring colour and drifts of naturalised tulipa sprengeri, this five-acre garden is a May treasure. Not regularly open to the public, this is a rare opportunity to visit one of the best private gardens in west Dorset.

Saturday May 18th

This morning we visit Farrs, the Beaminster home of the furniture maker John Makepeace and his wife Jenny, to explore two strikingly different but equally
enchanting gardens. John has created a landscape of order and precision, featuring clipped monumental topiary and precisely planted grass borders. Pass through a door into the internal walled garden and you enter Jenny’s world of carefully curated colourful chaos; a true plantswoman’s paradise.

Lunch is at the award-winning restaurant, Brassica, where we will meet up with Tania Compton, the acclaimed garden designer, writer, aficionado of natural dyeing and contributing Garden Editor to The World of Interiors. 

Tania will give us an exclusive tour of the garden at Chilcombe in the afternoon.

Created by the artist John Hubbard and his wife Caryl, and justly compared to Sissinghurst and Hidcote, the garden at Chilcombe is a paradise in every sense, composed of linked enclosures all hidden away in the hills behind Chesil Beach. The main walled garden is divided into a series of rooms by pleached apple trees and sculpted yew hedges.  Each of these intimate spaces invites you to stop and admire the plantsmanship and love that went in to its creation.

Sunday May 19th

Home to the Earl and Countess of Sandwich, Mapperton has been described as
the nation’s finest manor house and its grounds are equally remarkable. The
gardens feature stunning topiary, a magnificent orangery and a recently restored eighteenth century swimming pool. The planting in the borders is varied and elegant and the arboretum features a stunning collection of trees and shrubs. A talk on the history of Mapperton gardens will be given by the Countess of Sandwich.

Lunch is at The Parlour, the acclaimed restaurant tucked away in the beautiful Bride Valley.

We end the day back in Symondsbury, at the specialist plant nursery of Charles
As well as curating this spectacular nursery, Charles has designed gardens at Burford House, consulted at Sudeley Castle gardens and is restoring
the park and gardens at Lydney Park. The nursery is also home to Charles’s extensive collection of herbaceous and itoh peonies.

Monday May 20th

Our destination this morning is  another of the outstanding and rarely visited
private gardens of Dorset: the Rectory at Litton Cheney. This four-acre hillside
plot features a formal garden with a pleached crabtree border designed by Arne Maynard, over 350 rose bushes, a magnificent natural swimming pond, and a walled garden with a more relaxed style of planting.

Our visit will be followed by lunch, overlooking the cliffs at the Seaside Boarding House.

Fabled designer Jasper Conran has given one of England’s loveliest smaller
houses, Bettiscombe Manor, a garden to match, with orchards, mellow brick
enclosures, and broad beds flanking an unforgettable view of the Vale, looking
down to the sea.

We have an exclusive invitation to visit in the afternoon, to hear about Jasper’s design principles and the work that has gone into creating this magical English garden.

We return to Symondsbury Manor for a valedictory dinner.

Tuesday May 21st

Depart from Symondsbury Manor after breakfast.