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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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.
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!
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East Ruston Old Vicarage
East Ruston, Norwich