Act of Enclosure
PUBLISHED: 08:42 15 September 2015 | UPDATED: 08:42 15 September 2015
The walled garden at Spencers near Great Yeldham is a tapestry of colour from flowers, fruit and produce. Philippa Pearson shares the inspiration she found at this charming garden
It is the perfect summer’s day as I walk through this dazzling walled garden at Spencers near Great Yeldham, full of late summer displays from flowers, fruit and vegetables, I stop at a large border.
‘This is what we call our house garden bed,’ explains the owner, Lynne Bogie, as she shows me a deep, long border planted with alternate rows of fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. The idea is that all the produce from here is harvested and used for the house and it’s all grown in one, large, single bed. The walled garden at Spencers, a romantic country house in Great Yeldham near Halstead, forms part of the estate built by Lady Anne Spencer around 1760 with money from her grandfather, the first Duke of Marlborough, and was home to Arctic explorer ‘August’ Courtauld and his wife Mollie who bought the estate in 1937. After August’s death in 1959, Mollie married Saffron Walden MP and Conservative politician, RA Butler, known as Rab.
Lynne and her husband, Colin, moved with their three children to Spencers in 2011. Their previous home in Hertfordshire had an acre of garden, but Spencers is surrounded by 90 acres of woodland and parkland, while gardens around the house, a terrace, shrubbery and the walled garden cover 10 acres. The highlight of Spencers is the one acre walled garden, hidden behind 12ft walls and approached through a wildflower meadow planted with white flowers.
‘When we first came to view Spencers,’ says Lynne, ‘we were a bit hesitant about buying a home where you couldn’t see the main garden area from the house.’
The walled garden was designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, together with some other areas at Spencers, several years ago. Divided into four quarters, Tom kept the original layout of the walled garden laid out in Georgian times by Lady Anne Spencer and added new features including a clover lawn and an ox-eye daisy wildflower maze. There’s also a herb garden, orchard, vegetable garden, rose beds, double herbaceous borders running the length of the garden and a Georgian greenhouse, the oldest surviving one in Essex. The rose garden in the centre includes a sundial mounted on a column rescued from the old London Bridge.
Late summer in the walled garden sees orchard fruits ripening for harvest while the ‘house garden bed’ creates a colourful tapestry of vibrant cut flowers including asters, zinnias and dahlias mingling with squash, French beans, lettuces and soft fruit. The gardeners’ potting shed and adjacent cold frames are kept busy all year round growing plants for garden. ‘We supply the house with vegetables, fruit, cut flowers and potted plants, all grown here in the garden,’ explains head gardener John Pilgrim, who is assisted by three full-time gardeners plus part-time help.
Lynne works closely with John and likes to try different and unusual produce. ‘We’ve grown different types of beetroot,’ she says, ‘red, white and orange, which looked very pretty on salad plates enjoyed by visiting gardening groups.’
This year there’s three varieties of peas, several types of squash and celeriac, among other crops thriving in the rich loam soil. The walled garden is surrounded on all sides by a circle of trees which creates a microclimate for the garden, but also keeps the area quite cold and it can be a frost-pocket in winter.
‘We nearly lost the Garrya elliptica in our first bad winter of 2012,’ says Lynne, ‘so we are mindful of protecting borderline tender plants over the winter season.’ The white-painted, timber-framed Georgian greenhouse, built in the 1760s, is filled with colour and interest from late summer flowering plants and there are plans in autumn to restore the building. Other autumn plans include changes to the clover lawn to incorporate a knot garden.
Several borders near the main entrance to the walled garden are planned for displays of seasonal interest. In late spring through to mid-summer, massed plantings of foxglove ‘Excelsior’ create a bold effect and are a feast for bees on the hunt for nectar. John and his team treat them as annuals and sow seed in summer then bring on young plants over the winter, magically producing a display of flowers the following spring from seemingly out of nowhere. Plantings of Cosmos follow on, still looking good in late summer and into autumn.
Spencers is also known for the famous sky blue delphinium, ‘Lord Butler’. Introduced by the RHS in the 1990s, the ‘true blue’ flower with white eyes has an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) for outstanding performance.
As we walk around the walled garden enjoying the bountiful produce and late summer flowers, Lynne comments: ‘One of the benefits of having a garden away from the house, is that you make time to come out and enjoy the plants.’
What a special treat, indeed.