A hundred years ago, Compton Acres was just a piece of wooded heathland overlooking Poole Harbour.

Then in the 1920s, Thomas William Simpson, a successful margarine entrepreneur, bought the property as a seaside residence and had a vision to create a series of gardens which reflected his worldwide travels and interest in horticulture.

He recruited a knowledgeable and capable gardener called Middleton and they set about constructing the gardens. Thousands of tons of soil and rocks were brought in, together with a huge variety of plants from around the world and a Japanese architect employed to design and build an authentic Japanese garden. At the time it was considered one of the finest Japanese gardens outside Japan and cost £200,000 to build, which in today’s money is equivalent to about £10 million!

Over the years the gardens continued to evolve, but during the Second World War they were neglected and the gardens sadly deteriorated. After the war, the property was purchased by Stanley Beard, an architect responsible for the design of many London cinemas and he set about restoring the gardens to their former glory, and then opening them to the public in 1953.

In the 1980s the gardens were purchased by London property developer Lionel Green who developed the woodland walk and added a number of new features, such as the all weather paths for disabled visitors. Since then there have been a number of new owners who have each added their own improvements and innovation.

Today, Compton Acres is owned by Bernard and Kaye Merna who have invested heavily in the property and over the past ten years have created a fine Italian Villa, a café and tearooms, a gift shop and plant centre in addition to Simpson’s original gardens. A unique feature of the gardens is that they are laid out on a circular route – rather like jewels on a beautiful necklace.

Starting from the entry kiosk, visitors enter the Italianate Garden which comprises a Roman Garden, a Grotto, a Grand Italian Garden and a Palm Court. Passing through these gardens we discover a Sub Tropical Link containing a variety of species more commonly found in the tropics, which leads into a tranquil Woodland Walk.

At the bottom of the Wooded Valley is a Children’s Activity Area and Bog Garden which is home to water-loving flora and fauna. Moving on through the valley, visitors arrive at the Rock and Water Garden, the site of a large amount of landscaping. Next, the Winter Garden with its collection of plants and shrubs with a year-round horticultural interest and on to the Heather Garden with its stunning collection which bring beautiful colour to a winter’s day.

Finally visitors pass through the Memorial Link into the famous Japanese Garden which is one of the highlights of any visit. It is here among the ancient Japanese stone artefacts that visitors find a vivid panoramic display of acers and azaleas that brighten up any day.

This year, plans include an innovative new Sculpture Trail, a Wildlife Sanctuary and a Summer Arts and Music Festival.

Curator of the new sculpture trail, Gerry Clarke, explains: “Our vision is to introduce a number of sculptures that reflect and enhance the natural beauty of the gardens and stimulate an interest and appreciation of three dimensional art. We aim to provide an imaginative, artistic and visually appealing experience for visitors of all ages.”

Walking through the gardens, visitors will come across sculptures made from a variety of local materials, including timber from the New Forest, stone from the Isle of Purbeck and clay from Poole Harbour. Works of art have been obtained from a number of recognised UK sculptors as well as local Dorset artists including Simon Gudgeon, world renowned for his bronze wildlife statues.

To cater for younger visitors, Compton Acres is also planning a new Wildlife Sanctuary. Last year, an Environmental Challenge Competition was organised by a local Rotary Club and schoolchildren were invited to submit designs for a sustainable wildlife garden. This year will see some of the best designs put into practice with the creation of a Wildlife Conservation area adjacent to the Bog Garden.

Because of its unique environment and position, the gardens provide an ideal venue for arts and music. This summer, Compton Acres is holding its first Arts and Music Festival over the last weekend in August which will coincide with the Bournemouth Air Festival. The event will showcase local arts and crafts plus an eclectic mix of live music from the classics to country, folk and jazz.

The new guidebook, Compton Acres – Ten Acres of Beautiful Gardens is out now.

For more details and to obtain a copy visit comptonacres.co.uk