What’s waiting around the corner?

10 May 2015
Ben Pentreath

Hasn’t your week flown by? It’s something in the air of spring. No sooner had we blinked but it was Friday night, and a delicious, mad, funny dinner with our neighbours the Goodwins… and that Saturday morning feeling when you don’t quite think you can get out of bed safely without being ill. Our first glimpse out of the window revealed leaden, overcast skies and we gratefully closed our eyes and went back to sleep.

But the clouds were blowing away, the sun was coming out; and we knew we needed to do something otherwise the weekend would evaporate away. Charlie had a sudden urge to see rhododendrons. The garden at Minterne is a place I’d never visited before but had heard a lot about… and seemed that it would fit the bill. We set off in the car, pottering down lanes I’ve never been on.

Our first discovery was the beautiful church at Compton Valence, which was a revelation.

I loved this single tulip in the long meadow grass of the churchyard:

It turned out the church is largely an early Victorian reconstruction. It’s absolutely beautiful… plain and serene:

The flower ladies were preparing the church for the monthly service:P1050855P1050856P1050859

The countryside was filled with the brilliant acid yellow of fields of rape:P1050863

The verges bright with bluebells:P1050866

And the rolling hills of west dorset stretched away into the distance. The clouds were clearing from the coast.P1050867

We arrived in Minterne and popped into the tiny church, filled with extraordinary baroque monuments:P1050876P1050877P1050879P1050880P1050881P1050882P1050883

We loved the hand-written Flower Rota in the church porch:

And then we arrived in the gardens. Minterne is a strange, early 20th century house; not necessarily what you could call beautiful, but the setting is sublime. Into an 18th century framework of lakes, cascades and parkland trees has been planted the most beautiful Edwardian garden, of exotic Himalayan discoveries, that I have seen in the longest time.  The garden reminded me very strongly of that I wrote about years ago, now, at our clients’ house in central Scotland… which you can read here.  But the scale and complexity of the planting at Minterne is even more beautiful, I think.P1050887P1050888

Early May is always the best time of year to appreciate the huge richness of acid greens of woodland bursting in to leaf… straight out of a children’s illustration book. S. R. Badmin’s Shell Guide to Trees and Shrubs comes immediately to mind, which really needs a blog all of its own… but in the meantime, do you see what I mean?

A narrow path leads gently down into the wooded valley:P1050892

Past startlingly-coloured rhododendrons and azaleas…P1050893

Giant hydrangeas…P1050895

And glades of Acers and apple blossom.P1050897P1050898P1050900P1050903P1050906P1050907

At the foot of the valley we encounter the first of many cascades:P1050910

Unfolding ferns:P1050915P1050917

Moss-crusted azaleas…P1050920

And rainbow-hued hillsides.P1050922P1050923P1050928P1050929P1050930P1050934P1050938

The ancient stone bridge transported us instantly to an Edwardian idyll.P1050940P1050941P1050952P1050951P1050955P1050959P1050962P1050964P1050968

The Minterne Gardens are open every day between the 14th February and 9th November. You leave your £5 in the honesty box at the gate. It is a perfect place.

We had a lazy lunch in Cerne Abbas, and a perfect mooch around afterwards…P1050982P1050984P1050985P1050987P1050992P1060002P1060006P1060013P1060015P1060016P1060018

Cerne is one of my favourite little Dorset towns of all, although I haven’t been for ages. It was lovely to show Charlie.

We stopped briefly at the Parsonage to collect bags and head back to London… we had to get back in time for Charlie to go to a friend’s birthday. I took a few snaps of the vegetable garden, which is bursting with growth… and looking all the more beautiful, I think you will agree, under Charlie’s ministrations:

The last of the tulips, which are on their way out now:P1060047

And on the way back to London we stopped for a magical half hour in the bluebell woods near Sixpenny Handley…

And meandered through the perfect Chalke Valley… stopping for a few breathtaking minutes to admire Cecil Beaton’s wonderful Reddish House, which I suppose is one of the most perfect in the whole of Wessex. P1060070

My favourite sort of day. When it starts, you don’t quite know how it will end.

And it’s all the more magical for it.

27 comments on this post


I almost missed this post! Once again you’ve shown everything I want to see: hidden paths, close up flowers, shrubs and trees in glory colors, hillsides, vistas, doorways, marble details and gates. You always find the simple gates of iron. My favorite. Thank you, Ben.


Lovely pictures! The fleur de lys is the Digby symbol (can’t think of the right word!) along with an ostrich holding an upside down horseshoe in his beak. If you go to Sherborne Castle you can see quite a few of those (Wingfield Digbys). If you are passing Sixpenny Handley again, the church at Cranborne is really beautiful with some oxblood frescoes (spent many a school carol service there) and I believe the garden at Cranborne Manor is pretty too (Viscount Cranbourne who I wished I knew because he had an incredible party in a wood . All the guests were transported by tumbril !)


Once more you’ve managed to capture the whole gamut of life and death in inspirational forms and colours. Spring greens and icy grey marble. A tour de force! Best, Nicola

I never, never, never get tired of looking at your garden. Your vegetable garden is the neatest, most lovely garden to my eyes. As always your photos of the English countryside provide relaxing therapy.

nessa ryallsays:

Sigh! that was blissful.Spring is much further behind where I live ”oop north”so it’s nice to be reminded what we have to wait for.The tomb epitaphs were very moving..and I am 53 and am glad that such early departures are no longer the norm.Thank you so much for sharing your excellent taste and subtle eye.

So much beauty in this post, all of it lovely, but those bluebells – ahh, you’ve captured the bluebells of my youth. How I miss traipsing through the woodland in Kent by my childhood home, picking bunches of them to take home to my mother.

Your vegetable garden is stunning. Keep up the good work Charlie!

My shoulders dropped six inches between the moment I started to read this and when I finished.

Love the fleur-de-lis pew ends, and I was particularly taken with the memorial to Lady Blanch Napier written by her husband. Was not their view of death more soft and lovely than our medical view of it? We see it as a loss, a failure, and they saw it as a gain. And maybe it is a gain. I am not religious, but I find nothing to be as serene as a graveyard, and that is evidence enough for me.

When I go the way of Lady Blanch, I want a green burial wrapped in a linen shroud. (Aspirational, even in death.) I bought a huge 19th century linen sheet at Saint-Ouen in Paris when I was last there. That’ll do.

But for now, I’m partying down.




Thank you for the fix of fab photos and thoughtful descriptions, just lovely.


Thank you for sharing your wonderful photo’s. I’ll show them to my neighbours in Amsterdam and look forward to go to England.

Thank you for my Monday fix of everything I love so much, tulips, old churches, mooching, bluebells, old ironwork gates, flower rotas (I’m on one just like that!) et al.
The vegetable garden is pure heaven. You are so much further on with yours, than we are in the frozen wastelands of Nunburnholme.
NEVER stop sharing your days with us!

I echo all of the previous comments; your blog posts are good for the soul. Heartfelt thanks.

This bit of loveliness is almost, almost making up for the complete lack of loveliness here at the moment. It’s all rain and wind and cold so seeing your bit of the world looking so nice is a treat. Thank you!


The garden at Minterne is glorious. Thank you for the wonderful reminders. The house is not open to the public but I was lucky enough once to wangle a tour (don’t ask).The interior is everything a relaxed, comfortable English country house should be, and the tea we were served afterwards a delight – Lord Digby’s grandchildren milling about and the obligatory wayward dog scoffing stolen chocolate cake under the table.


So love your blog – a real treat. Thank you for all the work you put into it. My world shrinks due to some increasing disabilities and the lovely photos and descriptions help lift the spirits and make me realise that what I can no longer do in reality, this is the loveliest way of doing it virtually. A joyous way to start the week

Minterne Gardens looks a lovely place to visit and wander through – it is admirable the way they allow people just to enter the garden and enjoy it trusting in their integrity with an ‘honesty box’.

Mary Jenkinssays:

You have excelled yourself this week Ben!

Please do write about Stanley Badmin’s Trees and Shrubs – it’s one of my treasures!

Annie Dsays:

Lovely, just lovely.

Thanks for sharing.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Reading Helen Thomas’ post made me smile…. Ben, I am amazed at what Charlie and you managed in one day with hangovers… I think I would have spent the day on that primrosy sofa in front of the fire.. What a beautiful day and photos. I can’t wait to return to the UK. I wonder how many people ‘follow in the footsteps of Ben Pentreath’ as they travel around England and beyond.. based on your blog…. Thank you.


right. that’s it. time to pick up sticks and move to england. complete and utter perfection.
i LOVE your blog.Thanks for sharing.

jo in oz

Pierre B.says:

How nice it is to follow you around so many charming places! I could have taken a little more of Ceacil Beaton’s house… Maybe some other time? Thank you!

Oh I do love your posts- one of my favourite ways to wind down on a Sunday evening. You take so many wonderful photographs that I have a real sense that I am getting to go on these jaunts to these staggeringly beautiful places with you. They add such a note of calm beauty and serenity to my Sunday evenings, I can hardly tell you- I have two young children, one of whom is on the Autistic Spectrum so my days are usually frantic and full of tantrums and bedlam so to settle down with your wonderful words and photographs at the end of a long weekend is really a balm. Thank you!


Jo – so happy to give you a bit of peace in a busy week! Thanks for the comment. All best, Ben

Helen Thomassays:

I read your blog every week and recognised the two of you as you dashed past my kitchen window in Cerne yesterday!
I would have invited you in but was still in my pinny and washing up gloves so felt embarrassed!
So glad you liked our front door and back gate enough to photograph them .
Next time knock and you will see just how many items I have from your lovely shop…
Gorgeous bluebell woods.

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