History of Minterne Gardens

As an Island nation we have always relied on our sea-faring prowess to expand our spheres of influence. Our explorers are well known – Drake, Raleigh, Captain Cook, the pilgrims on the Mayflower – the list is endless.

However, there is another group of unsung English explorers – the plant hunters of the Victorian times. They explored throughout China, Bhutan and the Himalayas in search of botanical species. Their names include – Kingdon Ward, George Forrest, Edmund Loder. These plant hunters were sponsored by many amateur garden enthusiasts in England under the umbrella of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Between 1850 and 1947 their trips, lasting up to 6 years each, introduced countless new exotic species to English Gardens. Magnolias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, to name but a few. The seed was shared around the sponsors who propagated this as a basis for exotic subtropical shrub gardens; the vast majority of species at Minterne were propagated from seed brought back by these explorers.

 From the Archives

We have discovered from archive diaries, that every time Capability Brown came down to Sherborne Castle, Robert Digby would ride over to pick his brains.

Capability Brown revolutionized the English domestic landscape in the 18th Century. He gained his name because he used to observe a landscape and say, “ah, it has capabilities.”

Originally at Minterne there was just a small stream below the house, with a square bowling green and four rectangular, either gardens or paddocks, up to the house. Capability Brown’s idea was that everything should look natural, and although it was all man-made, it should just seem as if it happened. He never wanted any straight lines or avenues.

Read on

The small stream was therefore dammed up to make a series of small lakes & cascades. The square gardens were swept away, and many trees planted, mostly indigenous varieties, but also cedars and other exotic trees. Although the hills are chalk, the garden is situated on a mound of green sand, which runs for a mile down the centre of the valley. This, with the humus and dappled shade provided by the large beech trees, was the perfect setting for the Rhododendrons and Magnolias from the Wilson, Forrest, Rock & Kingdon Ward expeditions to the Himalayas.

The 20 acres of wild woodland garden are laid out in a horseshoe over a mile round.

Gardens Open Daily
10am – 6pm    *    1st February to end of November    *    Admission Price £6.00 (Children under 12 Free)
Season Tickets Available Here

Dogs welcome on leads    *    Parking is FREE for visitors in the car park opposite St Andrews Church    *    Minterne currently offers a selection of cream teas (weather permitting - please phone ahead to confirm)    *    Please note: Unfortunately, Minterne Gardens feature many uneven surfaces and are therefore NOT SUITABLE for wheelchairs    *    Minterne House itself is a private residence and therefore not open to the public without prior consent.