Secretive, aristocratic and remote, Dorset gardens exist in a world of their own. Tim Mowl is writing this nationwide series to prove that 'The Gardens of England' is an unhelpful generalisation. Each county has its distinctive park profile, its own richly introverted garden character.

Until 1900 Dorset remained the semi-feudal society that Thomas Hardy knew, and its gardens reflected that. Exquisite small manor houses of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries lay tucked away in downland folds or by winterbourne meadows, each within its unambitious walled gardens. Some aimed higher. Cranborne is the Cecils' hunting lodge where the ghosts of John Tradescant and Mountain Jennings still haunt its innovative Jacobean enclosures. Lulworth had the earliest Franco-Italian formal garden in the country, while Melbury is the ultimate survivor: a Norman forest with a Tudor deer park.

But the manor houses like Chantmarle and Athelhampton were merely waiting for the Edwardians to make their grounds live up to their facades. Then, in the late twentieth century, a new wave of designers settled in the county creating the historic gardens of the future - John Hubbard's inspired bucolic simplicities at Chilcombe and Penelope Hobhouse's farewell to her art at Bettiscombe.

This book is calculated to set readers driving off to make their own judgements in our last unspoilt Arcadian county.

Tempus Publishing, 2003 (Reprinted 2004) Paperback £15.99

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