Visitors to a Dorset village will this month discover there is much more to it than a chalk figure - if they take a look inside gardens open for one weekend only. Joanna Davis reports.


Gardeners are putting down their trowels and opening their garden gates to improve life both inside and outside a Dorset village.

Floral displays, hedge sculptures and manicured lawns can be enjoyed in abundance at Cerne Abbas Open Gardens on Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16 from 2pm to 6pm.

Around 25 gardens will be open for the duration and money raised will go to both village recipients and external recipients - the Cerne Watermeadow Trust and the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust.

Cerne Abbas, between Dorchester and Sherborne, first welcomed visitors to some of its gardens in 1974. Apart from 1977 and 1978 the event has been repeated every year. In 1974, 24 gardens were open and many of these original gardens are still opening today.

Bob Foulser, one of the event organisers, said open gardens gives people a chance to see this historic village from perspectives unavailable at any other time.

He said: "Additionally owners are around to provide insight as to how they use their garden and give information on plants. Several of the gardens have benefitted from the input of Nick Wiliams-Ellis, gold medal winner at Chelsea and Hampton Court. The plant stall has excellent quality and value plants and is manned by enthusiastic helpers from the village horticultural society; remarkably, several visitors say that they come every year just to be able to buy plants here."

In the early years all the money raised was used to support organisations within the village, but from 1987 onwards the policy has been to divide the proceeds equally between the village and an outside cause. These are chosen by a ballot of the garden openers.

The gardens are very varied, ranging from the very small gardens attached to modern houses to larger ones, largely hidden from view, behind more historic houses.

Included is an ancient watermeadow which has been carefully renovated to provide a landscape garden for some residents.

Another garden, Barnwells, was made in the early 1920s in the Arts and Crafts fashion and has featured in The English Garden magazine.

Bob added: "The attraction is the sheer variety of gardens from very new to historic, many with views of the church, river or surrounding hills. "Some of the ‘gardens’, The Squibb Garden and the Water Meadow, are maintained by village folk and this reflects the commitment of the community living in Cerne."

Bob says that open gardens has been enduringly successful in Cerne for a number of reasons.

"The first reason is that, although tiring, it is a real pleasure to be able to share one’s creation with people who clearly enjoy the experience of an afternoon in the Cerne community.

"Secondly, each year we give half the proceeds to a cause outside the village, this is very satisfying and encourages many folk to visit open gardens because it is supporting their charity. Thirdly, the causes are selected by a vote of the garden openers and helpers; this has avoided any significant controversies over where the money should go. Lastly…..the whole event is nothing other than a pleasure for everyone involved."

Cerne Abbas itself is famous for the Cerne Giant, which is carved into the hillside to the north.

It grew up around the Benedictine abbey founded in 987. It was largely destroyed at the reformation though a gatehouse, guest house and two barns remain. Much of the building material found its way from the abandoned abbey into houses around the village. Abbey Street is one of the most handsome in Dorset. The jettied houses are thought to have been built by the abbey around 1500.

Cerne Abbas is frequently used for filming and two television gardening programmes visited in association with Open Gardens: TSW in 1987 and Grassroots in 1995.


*Cerne Abbas Open Gardens, Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16 - 2pm to 6pm. Day tickets costing £7 will allow entry to all gardens. It's free for accompanied children. There will be a well stocked plant stall and teas will be served at St Mary's Church from 1.30pm.