CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today CLICK HERE

Mary Payne shares the secrets behind The Italian Garden at Compton Acres

PUBLISHED: 11:15 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:15 29 March 2017

The Italian Garden in the height of summer

The Italian Garden in the height of summer


Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Show Gold Winner, Mary Payne, reveals the design secrets behind The Italian Garden at Compton Acres and how to recreate it at home

Playgrounds of the wealthy in days gone by, Italian gardens are designed to impress all who enter them. So the fact that The Italian Villa in Compton Acres is one of Dorset’s most popular wedding venues is no surprise. It is set in the most glorious Italian Garden which provides a stunning backdrop for any wedding photo. To create that Mediterranean feel we utilise three key elements - structure, symmetry and formality.

Scaled down structure

Structure in our Italian Garden comes from surrounding banks covered in a screen of rhododendron bushes, 32 encircling columns of weathered Bath stone, clipped pyramids of dark green yew and impressive statuary. We emphasise this impressive structure by growing Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’ along chains between the columns. Linking everything together with long swathes of pink flowers in late spring, the ‘Elizabeth’ clematis would be a spectacular choice for a terrace fence or garden wall at home. It is sure to add structure and continuity to even the smallest Italian style garden.

A large cross-shaped pool forms an attention-grabbing focal point in The Italian Garden. This is enhanced by an ornately carved fountain, floating on the water are clusters of water lilies under which shoals of koi carp can be seen flashing past. The pool beautifully reflects both light and colour. Whatever the size of your garden, even a small pool or water feature ringed with attractive plants will create a delightful structural focal point.

Heated symmetry

In grass-bordered beds around the central pool, we plant large quantities of brightly coloured tulips to provide a vivid display of fiery red and yellow in spring, this is succeeded by orange and red flowered begonias in summer. By arranging these plants in intricate shapes, we create the elaborate symmetrical partitions that are so reminiscent of Italian gardens. Our use of hot colours ideally complements the terracotta tiles atop The Italian Villa. For your own garden, these same colours would ideally complement small terracotta containers or hanging baskets. A clever trick is to use hot colours to accentuate the light and make you think you’ve been transported straight to a sunny Italian hillside!

Trimmed formality

To achieve the famed formality of an Italian garden, wherever possible, look to include basic geometric shapes such as rectangles, squares, and circles. At Compton Acres, we create these using lines of low-lying topiary. If you would like to introduce shaped topiary in your garden, I suggest starting out with small evergreen shrubs such as Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold.’ One of my all time favourites, they are easily maintained and provide the year-round colour expected in a Mediterranean garden.

Our four tall, equally spaced, Chusan palms, aka Trachycarpus fortunei, visually transport visitors to warmer climes, these are some of the hardiest palms that can be grown in the UK. If you have space, they are perfect additions to a Dorset-Italian style garden. If you have limited room, I suggest using the smaller, less hardy, but unequivocally Romanesque, dwarf fan palms Chamaerops humilis. 

Strolling through Italy in Dorset

Take an afternoon stroll through The Italian Garden in spring or summer and be inspired to create your own Mediterranean- inspired outdoor space. It is one of five distinct gardens at Compton Acres connected via flowing walkways to the Wooded Valley, Rock and Water, Heather and Japanese gardens. There is also a Café and Tearooms and Plant Centre featuring a selection of standout Mediterranean plants. Open daily 10am - 4pm (Last entry 3pm). Find out more at

About Mary Payne MBE

Celebrated horticulturist and Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Show Gold winner, Mary Payne MBE has been consulting at Compton Acres since its purchase by current owners Bernard and Kay Merna in 2003. Mary is a Royal Horticultural Society Master of Horticulture and a former Horticultural Director of the Eden Project. Alongside fellow former Eden Project Horticultural Director, Peter Thoday, the pair has helped to fully restore Compton Acres and breathe new life into the historic gardens. Mary, who lives in Somerset, was awarded an MBE in 2004 for her services to horticulture in the South West. She continues to provide her expertise and advises Compton Acres on all the planting decisions made in the 10 acre garden.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Dorset visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Dorset staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Dorset account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Homes & Gardens

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As we head into Autumn, the change in season is all around us. From the leaves on the trees turning burnt orange and fiery red, to dark mornings and nights bookending our days. As we put the clocks back an hour to battle the darkness, here’s some top tips on how you can keep your home warm and costs down this Autumn.

Read more
Friday, August 31, 2018

Rural energy provider, Calor, gives some top tips for homeowners wanting to make their houses cosy and warm in time for the colder months.

Read more
Sunday, July 1, 2018

Residential property company heylo recently signed the Armed Forces Covenant, pledging its commitment to fair treatment and support to the Armed Forces community, including regulars, reserves, veterans and their families. The signing took place in a ceremony held at Wellington Barracks

Read more
Friday, May 4, 2018

A house on Dorset’s most famous street has become available and this is how much it costs to buy

Read more
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Add colour to your garden now with the top flowers of March and this season will be all the brighter

Read more
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Houseplants are a hot interior trend at the moment and can completely transform a room - but they have their downsides! Gardener and broadcaster Toby Buckland delivers his expert advice

Read more
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Would you decorate your home with human bones and old medical instruments? Plenty do, according to one Dorset couple, which piqued Faith Eckersall’s morbid curiosity

Read more
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search