She was thrown out of grammar school for saying she wanted to study horticulture, but five-time Chelsea Flower Show Gold winner Mary Payne MBE is certainly having the last laugh.

A consultant for ten gardens around the UK, including Poole’s Compton Acres, she admits there is “never a dull moment” in her career.

Mary has been instrumental in the dramatic transformation of the ten-acres of gardens at Canford Cliffs, working alongside renowned gardener and Mary’s long-time mentor Peter Thoday on behalf of the garden’s owners. “It’s been a work in progress,” she explains as she takes me on a tour of the site, which is known for its she first met Peter Thoday. After a year’s practical she went onto study horticulture at Studley in Warwickshire before going to Cambridge University Botanical Garden, on Peter’s advice, where she spent a further two years learning about plants.

Following that, she went to join Peter at Bath University, where he was working, and took her Master of Horticulture while helping to build the faculty for the subject.

“I did one year at Bath University and then they created a job for me, which was to demonstrate, to do all the practical things with students. We had some people that are now very well known in the country, including Professor James Hitchmough, who did the Olympic Park.”

Mary spent ten years at Bath before she got married and had children, moving into adult education when the children started school. She has taught gardening ever since, alongside working as a consultant, and was involved in the founding of a gardening club, which resulted in her being awarded the MBE for services to horticulture in the South West in 2004.

“In between all of this I’ve done Chelsea and Hampton Court,” she adds. “I think every horticulturalist would like a gold medal from Chelsea – I’ve got five.”

Mary, who also finds time to tend her own garden, which is “incredibly small, but beautifully formed and very special”, has most recently overseen the introduction of a themed area at Compton Acres, in front of the Harbour View Cafe.

This year, the area has taken on a circus feel, and now proudly sports a big top, unicycle and acrobat, as well as “clown” and “showstopper” plants, all selected by Mary.

“There’s a lot to think about,” she admits, “but from my point of view, it’s put me in the sweetie shop. I’m doing what I love best, which is playing with plants.”


Great Dorset Gardens Competition Compton Acres is hosting a competition to celebrate the talents of amateur gardeners all over Dorset, with submissions invited in four categories:

• Favourite Homegrown Garden.

• Favourite Pots/Container Arrangements.

• Favourite Garden Photograph.

• Favourite Plant Photograph.

An expert panel of judges including Mary Payne MBE, will shortlist entrants. The finalists will then be put to a public vote on the Compton Acres Facebook page to crown the favourites in each category.

Winners will be featured in Dorset Living and receive a guided tour of Compton Acres with Mary, an annual pass to Compton Acres, plus a £30 Compton Acres Garden Centre Voucher.

For more details, plus full terms and conditions visit the Compton Acres website.


Compton Acres, Canford Cliffs Road, Poole

01202 700778