|Giles Raynor fountain at the heart of the Exotic garden at East Ruston|
When you arrive at East Ruston Old Vicarage, it's hard to believe that it's only been here for a little over 30 years, so skilful is the landscaping and planting. Alan Gray and Graham Robeson purchased the near derelict Arts & Crafts vicarage in 1973 and set about recreating a garden from a rugged landscape that has become much loved by visitors from all over the world. It is less than two miles from the North Sea coast of Norfolk and part of its charm is the carefully crafted views through hedges towards the Happisburgh lighthouse and two ancient churches.
|King's Walk, viewed from the Arts & Crafts manor house|
Each different garden area here is carefully planned, landscaped and enriched to replicate different growing conditions and planted for maximum effect. Gray and Robeson take great pride in the fact that they've designed each garden room themselves and used no outside help. But they had the foresight to plant large shelter belts of hedging when they first arrived here, which not only protects the plants from adverse coastal weather, but also enhances the garden's microclimate, thus enabling them to grow a unique range of plants.
|The Tree Fern garden, seen here in September|
Some of the more unusual features include a Tree Fern garden; Exotic and Mediterranean gardens, so crammed with unusual plants that they are truly reminiscent of botanical gardens in the appropriate climates; and the Desert Wash, which houses an impressive collection of cacti, aloes and agaves. But those in search of English garden favourites need not worry because there are also roses, vegetables and cutting flowers, long borders, glasshouses and a wildflower meadow.
There's little doubt that you'd need to visit every month to truly appreciate this garden, which offers interest throughout the seasons. I have met many people who sing its praises and although I only managed to visit for the first time last September, it looked immaculate then, with the autumn hues beginning to creep in and the soft light that signals the end of summer. I can imagine how spectacular it must look at other times of year - particularly when the wildflower meadow is at its peak, or when the Desert Garden is in flower, with its range of sunshine hues.
|Entrance court and Postman's Gate at The Old Vicarage|
East Ruston Old Vicarage opens at the end of March and remains open until the end of October, but only in the afternoons (14.00-17.30) Wednesday through Sunday. Manicured it certainly is, and definitely "designed" to create a lasting impression, but there is little doubt that these two skilled gardeners have transformed their 32 acres into a landscape that remains etched on the memories of those who visit. Other properties nearby include Will Giles' Exotic Garden in Norwich, which also features many rare and unusual plants.