Saturday, 28 September 2013

East Ruston Old Vicarage

Beyond the refreshing midnight swims, birch-thrashing spa treatments and tranquil boat trips, the primary reason for my trip to Norfolk, was to visit a very special garden which has long been on my wish list and one that I have saved, to finish off September's series of Summer garden tours.

Click to Enlarge
Owners Alan Gray and Graham Robeson began creating their private gardens in 1973, initially with just two acres situated about a mile from the North Sea. In between both working in London the pair would utilize every available moment commuting to and from the capital to convert their 1913 Norfolk Arts and Crafts house and the overgrown surrounding grasslands into what are now thirty two acres of magnificent gardens at East Ruston Old Vicarage.

Before visiting the garden I avoided swotting up on the history of East Ruston or looking at any images, as I instinctively knew that I wanted to experience it with virgin eyes and what a treat I was in for.
As we drove through the entrance gates, we were greeted by the epitome of joie de vivre. The beaming face of Graham dressed in Vivienne Westwood, clutching a sailors cap to his chest as if he'd just landed the lead role in South Pacific. He guided our car into a suitable spot with a swoosh of an arm before doing an about turn, gliding off to give each and every visitor the very same dramatic welcome!

Graham and Alan's dedication and passion are in mountainous evidence at every turn. Far from promenading and pontificating around the joint, both owners are very hands on, working together with an unbelievably small team of gardeners as they sculpt and paint the gardens into a fantastical smorgasbord of a horticultural adventure.

The resulting estate is a finely engineered network of alfresco salons and corridors divided into digestible garden rooms, each with its own individual identity. The clever layout enables the visitor to easily absorb each space in turn before moving along, to salivate over the next creation.

The garden map I was awarded with upon arrival, lasted all of ten minutes before I safely placed it back in my pocket. There were far too many beautiful distractions for me to sensibly walk round adhering to my chosen map path. I fare much better in gardens by going with the flow and allowing the heart of the garden to guide me around without restriction and this is a garden that flows like its on air!

This is certainly a place in which you should channel your inner child and explore every nook and cranny to your hearts content. Who cares if you wind up lost without your map or back in the same garden area for a second time round, I look at it as the horticultural equivalent of an encore!

The very essence of a garden is obviously its ability to grow and this is also the prevailing ethos at work behind the scenes here, there is nothing static or fusty about East Ruston Old Vicarage. The gardens are still very much an expanding and blossoming project, new additions were being created during my visit. Even a sign that insisted 'No Entry' to an unfinished new garden couldn't stop me poking my naughty beak round the corner to see what was going on!


Some of us just like to take it all in our stride.
What's the rush friend! Just pull up a pew and park your bum a while!

The boundaries of the epic plot are framed by a shelter belt of Italian Alder, Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine which follow the lines of the original hedgerows and affords the garden its unique microclimate. The perfect environment in which to grow thriving plants that would otherwise be considered tender.

Cleverly crafted portholes that have been fashioned out of the surrounding trees provide a picturesque reminder of the gardens close proximity to the North Sea. The lighthouse is seen through the pines and a beautiful view of St Marys church which sits on the crumbling cliffs of Happisburgh, is seen through the Poplar trees.


Following my nose through the woodland garden I happened upon an incredible sight. The most beautiful examples of Tetrapanax Papyrifer flanked the entrance into the Exotic garden. Their thick, textured, architectural foliage reminding me to set free the examples I grow from their pots, so that they may also conquer the soil and skies. 

The stunning Giles Raynor fountain that emerges from one of the ponds in the Exotic garden was designed to emulate the water spouts occasionally seen off the surrounding coastline and to spray towards the centre of the 'twister'.

I've had a secret fascination for fancy chickens and birds for many years. One which stems from my days working in Paris when I would sit leafing through bird books with a certain couturier cooing and gasping at some of the beautiful outfits some of our lucky fowl friends get to be born into. So imagine my surprise and delight at discovering the most groovy flock of chickens living in the grounds. 

I mean, come on, how fabulous can you get! Paris fashion week is now over and to make up for it, the feathered boys and girls at East Ruston Old Vicarage put on a show just for me and I got  front row seats too! I know you're all just pea green with envy! I've ordered the look above (above right) with the hat of course for my autumn wardrobe. Watch out Kings Road here I come!

After the runway chicks finished up their show, I found some time to wind down in the Exotic garden's vine draped pergola before crossing over to its easterly edge to join the bugs that had taken up residence in the gloriously-scented, bloom-filled Rose Garden, sheer heaven!

Any garden that features Brugmansia gets my seal of approval. We grow lots of them in the conservatory here at Magical Manor, where in late summer the rich perfume fills the evening air, absolutely delightful!

Ultimately, one of our party summed up the garden in one fell swoop as we left the grounds at the end of the afternoon when she said " It's the sort of inspirational garden that makes you want to go home, rip up your borders and start again".....

......I better get busy then!
After lots of requests, we finally got round to opening up a Facebook page and would like to invite you all over to check us out and 'Like Us'
Please see link in the sidebar.

East Ruston Old Vicarage
East Ruston, Norwich
NR12 9HN

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Bressingham Gardens

The little village of Bressingham roughly marked the halfway stage of our recent trip to Norfolk and the resplendent Bressingham Gardens were the perfect place to stop for one of our legendary picnics and to stretch our legs before the second part of our journey to the East coast.

(Click to Enlarge)
In the early 1950s, British horticulturist Alan Bloom began creating the incredible gardens that span nearly 20 acres. The infamous Dell and Foggy Bottom gardens contain literally thousands of species of plants in every hue imaginable and are set against a medley of waltzing emerald green paths for the visitor to glide along.
Chondrosum gracile or Mosquito grass (above right) was a new discovery for me whilst mooching around the gardens. I wouldn't normally be attracted to such small grasses in a garden but I love the unusual right angles of the flowers that magically vibrate and quiver on the breeze.
The late summer sunshine decided to play peek-a-boo for the much of the two hours we spent in the gardens but the erupting polychromatic island beds which Bressingham is famous for, more than made up for the cloudy skies above. Those that are in need of a healthy dose of colour therapy should look no further; your synesthetic senses can almost hear the gardens humming with colour as you cruise the grounds.
The trick to planting in this retro style is to ensure that the plants work from every angle a feat that the Blooms have mastered to perfection over the past fifty years.
With tummies full, retinas recharged and the image of Hercules standing by the car tapping his foot, we piled back into our ride, waving goodbye to the fabulous gardens at Bressingham as we roared off towards the coast.

......Are we there yet?
Bressingham Gardens
Low Road
IP22 2AA

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Postcard from Norfolk

The direction of the magical compass guided us North East last week, for a little spot of rest and relaxation. Our destination, just a few hours from London on the equable waterways and country lanes of Norfolk. I packed up my holdall and checked into a little spa hotel where I based myself for a zig-zagging week of garden visits, boating, bracing coastal activities and as many midnight swims as I could muster. I would like to take this opportunity to preempt the smarty pants who is about to ask if that's me in the rowing boat, I'm afraid not chums:)
Click to Enlarge