With thousands of plant species from across the world and a special collection of rhododendrons, Minterne Gardens are a real treat if you want to get an idea of what it was like to create a garden during the Victorian period.
The estate of Minterne was leased to John Churchill in 1642 and later on sold to the Digby family in 1768. The original manor house was built at the end of the 18th century for Sir Henry Digby, but the building was demolished in 1900 because of dry rot. Minterne House is privately-owned by the Wingfield-Digby family but you can occasionally visit on a guided tour. During the summer you can take a picnic with you to the gardens, or enjoy a cream tea on the East Terrace.
The gardens at Minterne are laid out in a horseshoe just below the house. The park was established in the late 18th century in a similar style to that of Capability Brown, and hasn’t been changed very much since then. Admiral Robert Digby, who was an officer in the Royal Navy, is thought to have brought crew members back with him at the end of the 18th century in order to help with the planting of the garden, and apparently rode over to nearby Sherborne Castle every time Capability Brown was there to pick his brains about garden design. He planted lots more trees and removed the formal gardens, replacing them with lakes, cascades and bridges, as well as building a new kitchen garden. But the real star of the show at Minterne is the rhododendron garden, which has unique plants and Himalayan rhododendrons, as well as cherries, maples and other rare trees. Most of these rhododendrons and azaleas were collected by the Digby family in the late 19th century and more trees and shrubs came later from plant-hunters such as Wilson, Forrest and Kingdon Ward: Victorians who led expeditions to the Himalayas, Japan and China. The 10th Lord Digby sometimes travelled abroad to collect seedlings and the collection (of well over 1,000 species and hybrids) is still growing today.