A riot of colour, exquisite design, some of the most rare and exotic plant life you will ever see – Compton Acres, in Poole, is much more than just a series of gardens.

Comprising of seven themed areas, all connected by winding paths and bridges, Compton Acres was built in 1924 and is a wonderful example of a historic garden in the UK.

The famous Italian and Japanese Gardens look like something out of a fairy-tale – and the area offers an alternative to the beaches and walkways of Dorset as a family day out.

The gardens have been extensively made over in the past eight years and Compton Acres is now highly regarded as one of the most important historic gardens in England.

The team of gardeners and designers use modern horticultural techniques to ensure year-round interest, with thousands of new varieties of plants added each year. The gardens are privately owned and tended to with loving care. As well as its ten beautiful acres of gardens, there are two cafes, a specialist plant centre and, of course, a well-stocked gift shop.

The gardens attract all ages – tourists, locals, gardening enthusiasts. Julian Craig, a keen amateur gardener, said: “I love the way that the staff don’t rest on their laurels – they are constantly planting, tweaking, designing. The gardens look different every time I come here.”

The gardens are also popular with families and provide a colourful contrast from the beach. Georgie Hurberry visits regularly with her son, Cyrus.

She said: “It’s one of our favourite things to do on a weekend. We cycle down here (from Parkstone) and spend two or three hours wandering around the gardens.

“The staff are fantastic at answering our questions and really enthusiastic about the displays.”

The Italian Garden is many people’s favourite, boasting fountains, statuary, topiary and mass plantings providing seasonal colour. The garden features fantastic statues such as Bacchus in his Domed Temple, the Wrestlers of Herculaneum and the old Venetian bronze lanterns.

The Villa next door, which offers special events and weddings, is a romantic setting that Venus herself would be proud of.

The Wooded Valley is a mature pine wood, developed with winding pathways and dramatic waterfalls, plus contrasts of light and shade which make it so peaceful. Many rhododendrons and camelias thrive there. Shade-tolerant shrubs edge the terraces and glades together with woodlanders, including ferns and foxgloves. A series of pools are constructed to give the impression of a flowing stream and provide a tranquil backdrop.

Compton Acres also has the largest rock garden in private ownership in England. It is home to more than 300 kinds of plants ranging from mature specimens of slow growing conifers, to a wide variety of ‘alpines’ with dwarf spring and summer flowering bulbs.

Your sense of smell will be bowled over by the Heather Garden. Recent plantings of Southern Hemisphere plants, many not hardy in more inland sites, including the spectacular Acacia pravissima, provide special interest. However, many would argue that the Japanese Garden is the main event.

The Tea House, draped with Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) and the thatched summerhouse, are constructed to authentic designs while the stone and bronze works of art were imported from Japan in the 1920s.

The plants have been chosen with the emphasis on Japanese icons such as the colourful, evergreen Kurume hybrid azaleas, Japanese maples and beautiful Asiatic flowering shrubs.

In May, a special Japan-themed weekend saw plant experts offering free workshops to amateur gardeners keen to re-enact a slice of Asia in their own backyards.

As you wander through the gardens, look out for the innovative new sculptures – they are all for sale and have been added to “reflect and enhance the natural beauty of the gardens and encourage an appreciation of three dimensional art”.

The gardens also have a musical event coming up in the summer . The Wessex Chorus will be performing an evening of music on July 14 at 7.30pm.

Tickets ar e on sale at Compton Acres or wessexchorus.org.uk and all profits will be given to Help and Care. While the seven miles of unspoilt beaches ar e undoubtedly something we can all be proud of, don’ t forget to walk up the hill from Canfor d Cliffs and experience ten acres of paradise.

Compton Acres, 164 Canford Cliffs Road, Poole, www.comptonacres.co.uk