Spetchley Park is located in the small village of Spetchley, about three miles to the east of the City of Worcester and the River Severn. The wonderful gardens there date back only to the early nineteenth century, when the present Palladian mansion was built, but there was a moated Tudor manor house on the site when it was purchased in 1605 by Rowland Berkeley, a direct ancestor of the current owner, in whose family it has remained for over 400 years. The present owner, John Berkeley, also owns Berkeley Castle, which you can read about on this site. Unfortunately, the Tudor house was destroyed in 1651, when it was deliberately burnt down to prevent it being used as Oliver Cromwell's headquarters before the Battle of Worcester. Nothing remains of the Tudor and Stuart gardens, but the original deer park remains, still populated with herds of red and fallow deer. Still standing in the park, too, are several very old Cedars of Lebanon, which are thought to have been grown from seeds collected by the writer and antiquarian John Evelyn, a family friend, when he visited Lebanon in the latter part of the seventeenth century. If so, then these must have been amongst the earliest specimens of this magnificent tree grown in England.
The present mansion house was built in 1811, using honey coloured Bath stone, and the extensive gardens today all lie to the east of the house, which is not open to the public. The gardens were first laid out at the time the house was built, but they were much enlarged and improved at the end of the nineteenth century, now extending to over 30 acres, under the direction of Rose Berkeley and her sister Ellen Willmott (1858-1934), a noted horticulturist and winner of the RHS's Victoria Medal of Honour. In fact, Spetchley Park was one of the first three gardens opened to the public under the National Gardens Scheme in 1924, and it still welcomes visitors each year from the end of March to the end of October.
The visit to the gardens begins with a small entrance door leading from the car park through a red brick wall into the Melon Yard, where hundred-year old sunken greenhouses are enclosed within the walls of part of the old kitchen garden. Once they would have been used to cultivate melons and tropical fruit, as well as other fruits out of season, to provide a lavish show for guests. Now, the sheltered position within the surrounding walls enables sub-tropical plants to thrive, such as Primrose Jasmine from southern China and Pineapple Broom from North Africa, as well as the Chinese windmill, Trachycarpus fortunei. Especially treasured is a rare specimen of Punica granatum, the double-flowering pomegranate, covered in scarlet-orange flowers in late summer.
From here, the path leads under a yew archway into the West Border, so-called because it is one of four long borders surrounding the walls of the former kitchen garden. To the west stands the Horse Pool, covered in water lilies and flanked by trees such as a fine magnolia and a spectacular Davidia involucrate, the Pocket Handkerchief Tree, covered by hundreds of white bracts in May. At the beginning of the border, there is an unusual Varnish Tree, the fruits of which produce a high-gloss varnish for Japanese lacquer ware. The West Border contains displays designed to last and provide variety right through from spring to late summer, ranging from golden daffodils to flowering camellias, then by July many varieties of roses bring new fragrance and colour to the border.
From here, a gate leads through to the Millennium Garden, created at the end of the last century to celebrate the millennium and set in a corner of the old kitchen garden. Created by owner John Berkeley and garden designer Veronica Addams, it is an intriguing blend of styles, sub-tropical, Italianate and filled with plants suitable for a gradually warming British climate. Surrounded by borders filled with roses, two pergolas covered with clematis, the American Rose Acacia, Robinia hispida and the red leaves of Cercis Canadensis, Forest Pansy, lead to the central feature of a double-dish fountain – a very Italianate touch. Beds are lushly planted to give lots of colour – reds and oranges predominate – especially in late summer. If you care to linger, a wisteria covered arbour provides a comfortable place to sit and gaze at this lovely garden.
The visit now leads out again into the South Border, over 115 metres long! It's a mixed border offering colour and interest throughout the seasons from spring through to late summer, ranging from poppies, paeonies and delphiniums to ceanothus and the bright yellow flowers of the New Zealand Kowhai, Sophora tetraptera var. microphylla. Because the border faces south, backed with a warming brick wall, climbers such as clematis, white wisteria and vines thrive, while by July there is a gorgeous show of colour as well as fragrance from roses, chrysanthemums, asters and achilleas. Towards the farther end of the border there are two statues, representing Adam and Eve in seventeenth century French clothing, opposite a charming alcove set into the wall, which has a frieze with words from Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam, dedicated to the memory of Rose Berkeley:
The moon of heav'n is rising once again;
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
through this same garden after me in vain!
From the South Border one enters the Fountain Gardens, four garden 'rooms' around a central fountain enclosed by yew hedging and containing thirty six beds planted with a lovely variety of species, as well as many trees, ranging from Paper Bark maples to a superb Serbian spruce towering over the fountain. Here too there is a Corylopsis willmottiae Spring Purple, named in honour of Ellen Willmott.
Beyond the Fountain Garden lies the Rose Lawn, seventeen central beds planted with a great variety of roses, mainly Hybrid Teas, to give a lovely show of colour from June to August. The beds are surrounded by clipped lawns and backed by lofty trees, some dating back to the seventeenth century, including many cedars. Just to the north of the Rose Lawn stands the Victorian conservatory. Though visitors cannot go in, many plants are visible through the glass, and some conservatory-grown plants are moved outside during the summer. From here paths lead to the Cork Lawn, which takes its name from the Cork Oak tree, Quercus suber, which grows there, along with many other specimen trees. Here too you can see the thatched Root House, an unusual summerhouse constructed in the 1840s using the roots, barks and burrs of trees. Adjoining the Cork Lawn is the Garden Pool, its banks adorned with trees such as a weeping spruce and an American swamp cypress. Opposite lies the New Lawn Arboretum, planted with a large collection of specimen trees, or the visitor can turn over the wrought iron footbridge to go up the Long Walk towards the house, which has interesting and unusual trees planted along it, as well as carpets of bulbs in spring and self-seeded Martagon lilies right through to July. Or you can turn in the opposite direction to stroll around The Copse, an area of shrubs and small trees intersected by winding grass paths and with magnificent pines above, giving it a very peaceful and informal feel, as well as shade in summer.
The Copse leads back to the final stages of the visit, the East and North Borders. The former is really designed with summer fragrances in mind, from lilacs to a grand array of roses, shrub, climbing and rambling, as well as a gorgeous magnolia at the end. The North Border, because it combines both north and south facing walls with a path between, is not just the realm of shade-loving or hardy plants, but actually contains tender sub-tropical species from across the world, ranging from Burma and China to Australasia and South America. There are over thirty varieties of the South African lily Agapanthus, with flowers from pure white to deep blue. There are trees too, with a nice specimen of the Cut-leaved walnut Juglans regia.
From here you exit the gardens, though perhaps a refreshing diversion to the Old Laundry tearoom would appeal – it certainly did to me!