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.

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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


  1. What a magical mystery tour from beginning to end. First I had to check out Graham and Alan on Google - not sure which is which but think that Graham must be the bigger of the two. In my picture is his wearing a shocking pink tartan suit, and Alan is in fetching stripes.
    The first garden where I ever saw ornamental chicks wandering around was the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's garden, Chatsworth. I wonder if they have to catch them to keep them safe from Mr. Fox on his nightly prowls.
    The shop looks wonderful - every gardeners dream - lovely plants and pots for sale.

  2. Magical indeed! I enjoyed this garden tour and the chicks are a delightful sight! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Wow, this garden tour is truly magical. You sounded here so excited and so in love with this garden tour. Too bad you didn't include a photo of Graham wearing Vivienne Westwood. But it is not surprising that this garden is so enchanting and green considering it is close to the North Sea. Your photos of the portholes overlooking St Mary's church and the lighthouse looks amazing. Then your runway show of the chickens are fascinating. They all look gorgeous! Ummm., I wonder who that certain couturier you mentioned here? This is your most magical post so far Mr. P!

  4. Sir Paul, our gardens here have done beautifully with our extended summer weather, but just yesterday, we had more autumnal weather that brought down some refuse from the trees. SO NOW, I best get out there to tidy up my gardens for today, we are having our poetry teacher, who is a NATIVE OF NORFOLK and I want our cottage to look just right for her!

    Your tours really do take my breath away, and for the chickens? They are marvelous. Such beauty to be found in your part of the world. Take me away....Anita

  5. After that good birch-thrashing at the spa I can imagine what it was like sauntering through such an awesome garden! Your pics are fabulous Paul and I loved the chickens. A wonderful treat to walk through a place where it's obvious so much love (and money I'm sure!) has been poured into the English landscape making it unbelievably gorgeous and interesting at every turn of a pathway. Lovely they get such pleasure sharing it all too - it is a place I'd love to visit.

    I have the yellow Brugmansia (angel trumpets) here at the cottage too! So many people stop in the street and ask what they are and want cuttings! I chop them down to the ground before Winter, burying them with leaves and mulch, in Spring they surprise again and are now about 10 tall! Of course they are poisonous so I always warn people who have little kids and pets in their gardens before planting!

    Happy day Paul - great post. I don't do Facebook - so please don't quit the blog!!!!
    Off to Budapest, Vienna and Prague this Wed. - have you been there?

    Hugs - Mary

  6. Hi Paul, I cannot tell you how much I enjoy being swept away on your beautiful UK garden adventures. Loved every part of East Ruston. Going back now to slowly scroll through one more time. You know all the best places and I love that you share it all with your loyal readers.! Happy weekend to you, weather glorious here right now, hope it is same in London.

  7. Paul, The best post yet! You keep bringing it. Wow. I am seriously in love with this garden. Wandering around lost sounds like my kind of day. I hate a map. Adore the alder lined way and framed views! Their chickens are flash! Wow what a mix. And that bee photo!!

    The proximity to the ocean sounds so much like Carmel and Monterey where they can grow anything thanks to the damp air and light sun.

    By the way, how was the birch thrashing? ;)
    Thanks for the weekend getaway!
    p.s. Liking your Facebook.

  8. What an outstanding 'labour of love' this garden must have been! Just stunning Paul. Very inspired by the Silver Birch walk, as we are trying to create one here at home.....think we need to step up the planting! The Exotic garden's fountain is spectacular. Loved everything about this beautiful garden, and have made a note!

    Have a lovely week!

    Sophia x

  9. We so have to visit this stunning and inspirational garden next year. And there are so many in Norfolk alone!

  10. You Brits have the most beautiful gardens. Ours in the US pale in comparison. This one particularly caught my heart...absolutely magical!

  11. Dear Paul,

    What a beautiful post, so full of images, I felt like I was touring the gardens with you. Fantastic!

    I, too, have always had a secret love of hens and a secret wish: I always wanted to hold a chicken! As a child, my dad got me a chick, on two occasions, but they always died.

    We once had a huge turkey. I really thought my dream had come true: I really liked that turkey, until one day they sent me away to my aunt's and, when I came back, we sat down to lunch. Delicious! It was, until my brother said:" How do you like your turkey?" Yes... my friend had been made into soup!

    I cried and cried, so my dad went out and bought me a huge inflatable dolphin! A dolphin? An inflatable dolphin? "Is this a joke?" I thought "we are talking rubber, here, not Flipper!" Anyway... that was my sad story for today.

    Lots of beautiful "edibles" Paul! I noticed a big partridge running out of the picture. It must have seen me! I love all the chickens, or cockerels, whatever they are. So beautiful, colourful and just lovely... I wonder what their eggs would look like. I once bought quail eggs and nobody would eat them, as they felt sorry for them! Imagine that?

    Yes... the gardens look absolutely beautiful, so full of intersting plants. I love the pergola with vine! I would love to eat under that pergola and drink chilled wine. I do have a vine, on the terrace, upstairs!

    The red outfit... the... hm!... statue... monument... sculpture... Why did you take Miss H with you? did you actually think that by dressing her in red, rather than green, we wouldn't recognize the gracefully feminine beauty?

    Dear Miss H. Please forgive me if you read this blog. You are ok, really. It's just that... maybe green isn't your colour... neither is red... or blue... or yellow... Would you try seethrough, please?

    Bye, Paul! I do love Happysburgh and the lighthouse is fantastic! I also love Blakeney and Wells-Next-the-Sea.

    Thank your for this tour. You have made me homesick, again, though I am busy planning a foodie party for 20 people, here at the house! Lots of lovely, lovely food and drink!

    CIAO! XX


  12. PS: I don't do Facebook either, as I don't really want to spend too much time on the internet, so, keep this blog, as I really, really LOVE IT!



  13. Your choice of plumage is chic. For my part I am rather taken with the last number. The creamy background with caramel highlights, offset by the black speckling is wonderful. add a matching hat and it would get my vote hands down. We can promenade together on the King's Road!

  14. Oh my, this is quite the wonderland. What dedication they've shown to build such a majestic place. And those chickens, quite the coiffes! Thank you for showing it to us, but I must say you have left me wanting to see that image of Graham in Vivienne Westwood! Paul, you are such a tease!

  15. what a beautiful garden-love all the eyefalls + sent this to clients that have a resident in London. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a sweet message.

  16. Paul- you really have saved the best for last! Magnificent---the colors- the gardens- those gorgeous chicks!!! I love it all and could easily be so happy just to aimlessly wander. Your photos are beautiful and tell a great story about this peaceful and beautiful place--