|First view of Cranborne Manor from the wildflower meadow|
When you're lucky enough to step through the garden gate at Cranborne Manor in Dorset, you'll realise you're somewhere special. First glimpse of the ancient house is across a flower-filled meadow where you encounter 'Druid' (below), a life-sized bronze bull by Nicola Toms, who gazes over summer displays of cowslips, ox-eye daisies and orchids. And this is just one of many delights in a garden that was originally laid out by John Tradescant (the Elder) in the 17th century.
|Druid, a life-sized bronze bull is one of several sculptures in the grounds of Cranborne Manor|
In medieval times the manor of Cranborne and all hunting grounds associated with neighbouring Cranborne Chase belonged to the Crown and it was King John - a passionate hunter - who first built a hunting lodge on the site. This was rebuilt by Robert Cecil (who later became the Earl of Salisbury) at the beginning of the 17th century, and he engaged Tradescant to help with the layout of the garden and the planting of trees. But little remains of his original plans, save for the area known as The Mount to the west of the house and the Bowling Allee stretching the length of the croquet lawn.
|The Jacobean gatehouses open onto the circular South Front courtyard|
If you're lucky, you'll be able to access the gardens through the huge gates of the Jacobean gatehouses, flanked by two elephants (above), which open onto the circular South Front courtyard, with an Angela Connor water sculpture at its centre. This is where you'll see spectacular displays of climbing and shrub roses in the summer months, but don't be surprised if the courtyard is closed, as it often is during the season. You will still be able to access all other parts of the garden.
|The sundial on top of the mount - part of John Tradescant's original garden to the west of the manor|
Although little remains of Tradescant's original garden, much of what you see today at Cranborne Manor is the work of Viscountess Cranborne, who came to live here in 1954. The garden has evolved into a series of garden rooms in the last 60 years and is an interesting mix of formal and informal areas that include white, green and herb gardens, an orchard with naturalised tulips, a chalk walk with double herbaceous borders and a delightful church walk, which has colour and structure throughout the seasons.
|Church Walk to the East of the Manor has colour and structure throughout the seasons|
Cranborne Manor has so many different aspects that you could be forgiven for thinking you're wondering around a French chateau garden. Each view of the Grade II listed house is different and it can look large and imposing or small and sedate, depending on where you are in the garden. But it is the endless attention to detail that will captivate you if you take the time to look - small statues hidden in hedges and larger pieces of sculpture like Elizabeth Frink's 'In Memoriam' head (below).
|Elizabeth Frink's 'In Memoriam' head presides over the manor garden|
Cranborne Manor is only open one day a week and some areas of the garden (South Front courtyard) can be closed to the public. This garden is not just about herbaceous borders, but rather vistas across wildflower meadows and the rolling Dorset countryside beyond. Open Wednesday 9.00-17.00. (last entry 16.00), 1st March - 30 September. Admission £6.00 for adults and £1.00 for children. Free for individual RHS members on presentation of membership card.