Sunday, 27 May 2018

May at Cranborne Manor Gardens

When I last visited Cranborne Manor, in 2016, it was a warm June day and the roses were at their finest (see earlier post). We had walked along mown paths, through long, grassy meadows where the wild flowers had mostly finished and had hoped to return one day, to see them in bloom.

May is the best time for wild flowers here, so we made the journey again through narrow Dorset lanes awash with cow parsley ( Queen Anne`s Lace), red campion , comfrey, wood avens and hawthorn blossom . Woods were in young leaf of so many vivid greens and hawthorn blossomed pale cream in the hedgerows.

At Cranborne, the Manor Gardens were quite different without their roses. There was a sense of waiting for the main event, yet the wild flower meadows beyond were blooming in profusion.

A Giant`s Chair sculpture in a hay meadow full of flowers.

 Wild flower meadows in afternoon sun.

A little weir, a pond and the clear stream that runs through them. I sat on the bank in cool grass, under a weeping willow, and watched moorhen chicks swimming and a pair of grey wagtails catching insects by the running water. 

Wild flower meadows of buttercup, yellow rattle, red clover, germander speedwell, vetch and salad burnet. Cow parsley fringed the steam. 

In the peaceful walled garden behind the Manor, a colour palette of pale mauves, white, silver and shades of green softened the wide borders. 

We found a long, formal garden between high walls, where herbaceous perennials were spaced with room to grow into their summer finery. A garden to return to when the wall-climbing roses flower again.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Winter Trees and Forest Ponies

We have had so many grey, dull days this winter. These photos were taken on a rare day of cold sunshine, before the snow and east winds came. A silver shine reflected on smooth beech trunks and a haze of young buds tipped twigs with light against the sky.

I caught the sparrow hawk on guard at the top of a horse chestnut. It often watches from this tree, in wait for unsuspecting small birds feeding on grass or at the garden bird table. I have seen it take a blackbird from the lawn in a wild, precise sweep down and across the grass. This week it has taken a wood pigeon in the field. A long stretch of grey feathers on the grass marks their passage and a pigeon`s last airborne fight for life.

Under the oaks and beeches, holly and ivy grow. Ivy flowers are heavy now with seed and provide welcome food for hungry birds, as well as dense, safe shelter in the worst days of winter, 

This holly on the heath was the last to lose its berries this year. Sweeter berries in the hedgerow hollies are cleared before Christmas, by blackbirds, the garden song thrushes and travelling flocks of mixed thrushes. Some hollies seem to bear more bitter fruit, which goes untouched until the birds are desperate with hunger. By the last days of our recent snow, this bitter holly had been stripped bare by redwings, fieldfares, mistle thrushes and song thrushes. Within days the berries were gone and the migrant birds had moved on. 

The old wilding apple trees survived another winter on the hill slopes, with their dense, gnarled branches showing silver green under years of lichen growth. 

Out in the lane, one Forest pony was happy to prune and eat the holly over a garden fence.  

Many of our village ponies were born in the gorse bushes on the hill, so we have known them since their earliest days. We are familiar to them as we walk and share the heathland spaces. This mare and her companion came over to me as I walked back from a walk around the hill. 

Back in the lane, a chestnut mare finished her drink and came across for a friendly word. 

A kind eye.....

In the old boundary hedge, oak and beech twisted and stretched their branches upwards under a cold, late winter sky.

Friday, 24 June 2016

A June Day at Cranborne

On a warm June Wednesday I drove across the Hampshire border with some friends, for a visit to Cranborne Manor Gardens, in Dorset`s Cranborne Chase. 
The Gardens are approached through a colourful and well stocked Garden Centre.We met for coffee and then made our way through rose-covered walled gardens, where beds of vegetables grow alongside drifts of wild flowers and sown cottage garden blooms.

Colours and scents tempt bees, butterflies and gardeners.

Climbing roses, underplanted with cranesbill geraniums.

Daisies, corncockles and splashes of scarlet poppies.

Vegetable beds in the kitchen garden, and a rustic "hut" of wood for sweet peas to climb.


Through a door in the garden wall, we walked along mown grass pathways, through meadows of wild flowers, towards the Manor House.

Yellow rattle, daisies, orchids and salad burnet, buttercups and clover grew among the grasses.

Down towards the Manor gates, where red brick walls and roses glowed in the sultry heat.

Cranborne Manor has been a family home for centuries and is not open to the public. Its current owner is Viscount Cranborne, eldest son of the seventh Marquis of Salisbury.

The original house was built in the twelfth century, as a hunting lodge for King John. The countryside of Cranborne Chase had been a Royal hunting ground since the Norman Conquest.

In 1604, the estate was given to Robert Cecil, Chief Minister to both Elizabeth I and James I, in thanks for overseeing a smooth transition between the Tudor and Stewart reigns.

Changes and additions to both house and gardens have taken place over the centuries. I was fascinated to discover that the early 17th century gardens were designed by Mounten Jenning and planted by the great plant hunter John Tradescant.

This and more information about the house, garden and the modern Estate can be found on

Through a wooden gate in the garden wall, we walked around to the back of the house, where the rear doorway gives a feeling of great antiquity and a sense of countless passing feet, over so many centuries.

From the back of the house, the view stretches down across the ha-ha and over a gate, into an avenue of green limes and lush pasture.

Walking on, we found an ornamental pond.......

......and free range chickens, contentedly foraging in the shelter of garden walls.

There are richly planted herbaceous borders in the walled area between the Manor House and Cranborne village. Early delphiniums promised a fine display, beside Church Walk that leads to the churchyard gate.

Masses of  pinks and old roses filled the warm air with summer scent.

An apple archway spans drifts of nepeta (catmint) and allium.

An ancient holm oak.........

...beside an avenue of limes.

We walked through their shade and back into wildflower meadows. 

Such an old and lovely place to walk, surrounded by birdsong and the sights and smells of summer. This is a garden to return to and enjoy again.