‘Gardens prove why they are such a popular wedding venue’

October 16, 2016


VALUABLE ASSET: The Italian garden with the villa in the background has formal clipped yews, clematis between the stone columns, seasonal bedding and a prominent water feature. The Italian Villa has won the Gold Dorset Tourism Award for business and venue tourism.


EASTERN PROMISE: The Japanese Garden was the brainchild of the original owner Thomas Simpson. A number of indigenous plants from Japan have been used to make this part of the gardens unique. The pool is home a number of Koi carp that can be viewed from the stepping-stones. The Tea house can be seen in the side of this picture.


BIG BIRDS: Not the character off Sesame Street, but two impressive cranes that impress the visitor when they least expect them to.


HEATHER HEAVEN: Winter and summer flowering heathers planted on the rocky outcrops give this section of the garden all year round colour. In the years previously it used to be the home of a number of Mr Simpson’s cactus and succulent collection.


FOR many months I have attended a series of seminars at Compton Acres which lies close to the Sandbanks Peninsula.

Opportunities come and went to explore the gardens for which this visitor attraction is famous for but I haven’t made time to go around and visit it properly but a few weeks ago I made sure that this was made possible when visiting with a friend.

Compton Acres has been profiled on this website before but for its venue, rather than the gardens in November 2013 when I came down with my friend Dave for an art and crafts fair that was hosted in the Italian Villa.

Constructed in 1920, the gardens are considered to be one of the most important gardens in England and they boast a huge number of species all growing in one place. Thomas Simpson purchased the site that year and proceeded to create a series of gardens to reflect the different places he had visited abroad.

The garden was officially opened before World War II and again after it finished. Simpson sold the site to an architect called Stanley J. Beard and it was restored after the war and re-opened in 1953. The current owners are Kay and Bernard Merna who purchased the site in 2003.

Under their stewardship, the gardens have undergone major refurbishment and the 10-acre site now boasts the Compton Acres gift shop, the café and tearooms, the plant centre, the Ark gift shop and the prestigious award-winning Italian Villas – a sought after wedding venue.

The Japanese garden reflects the love of Japanese horticulture of Thomas Simpson, the original owner, who brought a number of native plants from there including national versions of cherries, azaleas and maples. There is a pond home to a number of large Koi carp and they can be viewed best when negotiating the stepping stones. The Japanese Garden is considered to be one of the finest of its kind in the UK.

The Italian villa provides a backdrop to a water-themed garden that features a number of ornaments that include of the Roman god Bacchus in his domed temple, the Wrestlers of Herculaneam and some old Venetian bronze lanterns.

Part of the complex also hosts a wooded valley that features glades with paths pushing through meandering past cascades and pools. One of the significant plants in this garden is a fish-tail camellia that takes its name from its forked-leaf tips.

As a wedding venue, the Italian Villa has been voted the “world’s most popular wedding venue” for the past two years and has won the Gold Dorset Tourism Award for venue and business tourism for those two years too.

Last October 60 representatives from WI groups from across Dorset came to Compton Acres to celebrate the centenary of the WI movement.

Bernard said at the time of this event: “To host members of the WI movement, which is renowned for its expertise in floral art and gardening and celebrate their centenary was a great honour. We hope to see many of the members return and enjoy the gardens through future seasons, in all their beauty.”

  • THIS article is partly a thankyou to Kay and Bernard Merna for their hospitality in being the venue for a series of seminars run by Jacquie Leswell on a monthly weekday evening. It is very much appreciated.
  • WITH it now being autumn the visiting times have changed and until Good Friday next year, the gardens are open from 10am-4pm, with the last admittance being at 3.45pm. The leaves should be a kaleidescope of autumnal colours at this time of year. For more information call 01202 700788.

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