Spencers is about half a mile outside Great Yeldham in Essex. It is reached along the road signposted to Tilbury-juxta-Clare from the Domesday Oak.
The garden was originally laid out for Lady Anne Spencer, granddaughter of the first Duke of Marlborough, in the eighteenth century. The political association was renewed when Lord (RAB) Butler moved there in the 1970s. He had the delphiniums planted that bear his name. Towards the end of the twentieth century Tom Stuart Smith created a new design incorporating the delphiniums. Even the worst summer in living memory failed to dim the qualities of this garden when we visited just after a morning downpour. We had taken unbrellas but found little use for them; even had it rained there was the glasshouse, reputedly the oldest in Essex, or the natural cover of the woodland walk on offer.
All tours begin in the walled garden, where the planting is herbaceous with grass and gravelled paths. Grey skies notwithstanding, the roses were close to their best, offset against green shrubs and a variety of tall grasses. Then the stunning delphiniums that have to be described, whatever one's political opinions, as Conservative blue. There is an area of cordon trained fruit trees with a Maltese Cross mown from a herb lawn, followed by a wild flower garden before the route leads out into the woodland walk.
Lucky to be the only visitors, which reminded us of the day we ran across the shallow pond that should have been the courtyard of a French chateau to be greeted by "Ah, les Anglais," we saw both a tree creeper and a lesser spotted woodpecker before finding ourselves almost back in France crossing a red Monet bridge over a stream.
Who would have expected to walk for a couple of hours in such weather and only have wet shoes? We made our way back to the formal garden to tea beside the swimming pool, covered of course, after an inspection of the cacti and orchids in the glasshouse.
There are plans to have a restaurant at Spencers and to seek a licence for weddings, which should make it a much visited venue, whatever the weather. Arrangements to visit are made through the National Gardens Scheme for charity or on Thursdays, as given in the website.