A Visit to East Ruston Old Vicarage.

In September I revisited this amazing garden after a gap of many years and I was bowled over by the energy and imagination and I have to say the money that has been spent on it.


Alan Gray and Graham Robeson  have developed it over many years and gradually expanded their boundaries so that they now have 32 acres. They live near the wind- swept coast of North Norfolk and so their first job was to plant a shelter belt.  Now, within these tall trees they have a garden which takes advantage of the maritime climate without suffering  from the depredations of salt-laden winds.  The landscape  round here is flat and uninteresting, but they have cleverly taken advantage of the landmarks of a lighthouse and the church by making holes in the hedges.


Sorry, the above is not a good photo but you can just out make out Happisburgh lighthouse.  In between the blocks of evergreen oak, Quercus ilex, there are Chusan palms, Trachycarpus fortunei.

There are many long green corridors throughout the garden which rest the eye between the different areas. Some of them have glimpses of the church at the end and some of them have unusual sculpture.


I have heard people complain that this garden is ‘too much’ and ‘exhausting’. I wonder what delicate sensitivities people have to find a glorious garden full of treats too much. Another criticism I have heard is that it does not relate to the countryside, which is unfair. The strong winds demand a shelter belt and in any case who wants a view of flat turnip fields? I love the exuberance of this garden and the soaring imagination which has gone into its design. I heard Alan Gray speak this year and I loved his enthusiasm. These are hands-on gardeners who grow things from seed if they cannot find the plants they want. They are always pushing the boundaries of tender and exotic plants  outside.

In the garden by the impressive entrance which they call the ‘Postman’s Gate’, they grow succulents.  I suppose these must be dug up every winter unless the large ones can survive a mild winter.


I loved the way the colour of the succulent matches the verdigris of the copper containers.


You leave this part of the garden through another fabulous gate.


Here are are more succulents, this time displayed in pots.


Alan and Graham have a liking for the exotic. There is an Exotic Garden, a Mediterranean garden and a Desert Wash which is designed to look like parts of Arizona. This is a gravel garden and there are four hundred tonnes  of flint stones. I saw this some years ago when it had just been completed and I thought it looked wonderful. Now it has grown up and many plants have self- seeded, I don’t like it quite so much because it doesn’t look so desert -like.


Here is the entrance to the  Mediterranean garden.  It is surrounded by brick walls and consists of a series of south-facing terraces.  I love the way the Lobelia tupa matches the brick.

At the far end of the Mediterranean garden you can see the pavilion. From the other side of the pavilion the King’s Walk leads back to the house. It is flanked by ten beautifully clipped obelisks of yew.

There is a secluded garden with sixteen mature tree ferns whose fronds meet overhead to resemble a Gothic building. They are underplanted with acers.

Many of us dream of having a walled garden and in 2012 Alan and Graham built a fabulous Diamond Jubilee walled garden. Here there are vegetables and flowers for cutting as well as stock beds.

A lovely little pavilion is built into the corner of the wall.

There are plenty of places to sit. The sitting area in this greenhouse is surrounded by exotic plants.

My favourite part of the garden is the Dutch garden. This consists of eight box-edged beds and topiary in the form of balls cones and a pair of peacocks. The brick paths here set off the garden beautifully.
One of the glories of this garden in late summer is the imagination and flair which has gone into the creation of flower filled pots, some of them huge.


This is a dazzlingly bright blue Commelina dianthifolia in a pot. You can grow it from seed, so next year I shall try some.

Commelina dianthifolia

Commelina dianthifolia

Even round the tea room you can enjoy huge Brugmansias whilst you sip your tea and enjoy some excellent cake.

There is so much to enjoy here at all times of the year. The woodland walk is criss-crossed with paths and it is easy to lose your way. It looks good in September with so many  hydrangeas. I don’t know how they kept them looking good during this year’s drought.
There is a rose garden and an amazing wild-flower meadow for early summer. It is a garden which is worth visiting at any season. And of course there are always new projects. Alan has become very interested in growing fruit. There is a lovely apple walk. I asked what this structure is going to be and was told it is for fruit. They don’t do anything by halves here.
A visit to this garden gets me dreaming about what horticultural delights I would treat myself to, if I had plenty of room and unlimited resources. I think it would be a natural swimming pond and a greenhouse. Not just any old greenhouse, I have two of those already. I am thinking of something on the lines of the Palm House at Kew. OK, maybe a little more modest. But somewhere I could enjoy exotic plants and warmth all year round. It would open up a whole new area of gardening and keep me out of mischief all winter long.  Or, I would be quite happy with a large greenhouse like the one Peter, The Outlaw Gardener  enjoys, even though his greenhouse is rather unnervingly decorated with dismembered bodies. I think I would rather go for a tree top walk and  a cascade and bright, tropical butterflies.

What would your horticultural extravagance be if money was no object?


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62 Responses to A Visit to East Ruston Old Vicarage.

  1. Christina says:

    Oh. I must visit this garden Liz; so much to enjoy and be stimulated by. What are the trees with blue flowers or are they Hibiscus? What I would love to have (need) is a shade house.

    • Chloris says:

      You would love it Christina. It is a long way away from here, right up near Cromer. The blue flower in the pot trained into a lollipop is Solanum rantonnetii. It is not hardy here but it might be in Italy.

  2. Bodger says:

    Wonderful tour, thank you. My Brugmansia has one bud, trembling on top of a lanky stem. I shall try not to feel sick with envy at the laden specimens in your pictures. The clipped yew walk is sublime and the planted pots delicious. Money no object? Manure. Better still, a stable at the end of the road, to bolster my terrible thin soil.

    • Chloris says:

      I don’ t know how they manage these amazing brugmansias. They have several huge ones, they are stunning.
      Money no object, manure? Oh come now, think big. I get manure for free from my friend up the road, so that doesn’ t even count as extravagance.

      • Bodger says:

        I was trying not to be greedy. Alright then, I want my own horse, and a stable to muck out, together with some time to exercise the poor beast and spread the manure. Really, I have everything I want, apart from my impoverished, miserable, sad sandy soil. Some huge frost proof pots and the talent to grow peas would be pleasant.

      • Chloris says:

        Oh, but the whole point is to be greedy, there is no point in economical fantasies. Right, when I work on my fairy godmother skills a bit,( and I have to admit there is a long way to go, so don’ t get too excited. First I have to conjure up my palm house.) Then you will have your horse and pots and beautiful prize- winning peas.

      • Bodger says:

        Hi Chloris, I believe that Rowans, like apples, are the product of their parents. I’m looking for white berried specimens to add to my collection, spending a lot of time walking into walls, pedestrians, traffic…

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Fabulous post, Chloris – England has the best gardens! I envy you. I love the brugmansias and the nearby gray plectranthus. I had one once and let the frost take it and I haven’t seen it offered for sale since. Also noteworthy is the driftwood table.
    If money was no object? The list would be long, but I’d hire a YOUNG garden helper to re-do my gardens that have been let go too long. Some fine art sculpture would be nice, too. And redo my flagstone walkway. 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Eliza. A young gardener? Now why didn’ t I think of that? Or rather a team of them working at night with miners’ lights attached to their heads. And then during the day I can have the garden to myself and just potter. I do love pottering idly in the garden doing this and that. And if I had my huge glasshouse I should have no time for digging outside.

  4. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks for the tour.

  5. jenhumm116 says:

    Thanks so much for the tour Liz. It’s been on my list for a long time now – maybe next year!

    And yes, my vote would also be for a ‘tame’ gardener to do all the grotty or painful jobs (getting the brambles out of my hedges) and ensure everything is watered when I’m in London.

  6. I loved pretty much everything about this garden. And I was pleased to find plants that would be as much at home in my garden in California as they are in East Ruston. Thanks for sharing your visit!

    If I had unlimited finds, I’d start by terracing my horrible and nearly unusable back slope. I might also take over the property on one side of me or another (both of which were once part of the parcel on which I live) and build myself a greenhouse or maybe an elaborate garden shed (given that we arguably have little need for a greenhouse in SoCal). Oh, and I’d find a place for a REALLY big underground cistern to store rain water – my 475 gallon capacity doesn’t do the job.

    • Chloris says:

      It would be good if you could own the land where the owners always want you to cut your beautiful shade trees down. And of course water is your on- going problem. I am hoping to get a lovely new shed in the next months.

  7. homeslip says:

    What a question. A natural swimming pool, a walled kitchen garden with greenhouses built into the walls – yes please. An avenue of beech trees (actually I planted one of those in my village in 2012 and it’s coming on well) to make a cathedral of trees that turn golden in Autumn. East Ruston is one of those gardens I feel I know even though I’ve never visited, so thank you for showing your favourite areas. Aren’t we lucky to have free, plentiful and easily accessible manure. The copper verdigris pots planted with succulents are so desirable. You really shouldn’t be tempting us with all these ‘money no object’ ideas Chloris.

    • Chloris says:

      Well, it’ s nice to see you think big. I should have mentioned a walled garden, that would be wonderful. I wish I could get hold of some old copper pots like this, they are gorgeous.

  8. croftgarden says:

    It is a fabulous garden and although supported by an enormous budget you still need inspiration, creativity and knowledge to put it too such good effect.
    What would I like with un-limited funds, after a week of hedge cutting and muck shovelling, a couple of apprentice gardeners!

    • Chloris says:

      I quite agree, money alone doesn’ t get you a wonderful garden. Very often very rich people get garden designers and the resulting gardens all look a bit samey to me.
      I think the general consensus is that some help in the garden would be nice.

  9. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and wonderful pictures. It certainly looks like a most impressive garden full of colour and interest, and well worth visiting. xx

  10. Thank you for such an excellent review of this garden, it does seem to divide opinion but that makes it all the more interesting to me. I’d love to see it for myself one day. Happy helping hands are always top of my wish list.

  11. Steve says:

    Its a must see garden. I went about ten years ago and I will pencil it in now for 2017 to see again.

  12. Cathy says:

    A lovely tour of the garden Chloris! My Mum loves this garden, but I have never been there myself. I love that sculpture… is it fennel? And the Solanum in pots are enormous. They must have large greenhouses for overwintering with all those succulents and palms too. Or perhpas it is sheltered enough there? I must go to see it one day. Thanks for sharing your photos!

    • Chloris says:

      Oh do and try and visit it, you would love it, there is so much to see. Yes the sculpture is fennel. They do overwinter all the tender plants, they leave those huge pots outside but take the plants in.

  13. rusty duck says:

    It looks like a wonderful garden to me. Indulgence? A half acre of raised beds for veggies and newly propagated plants entirely covered by a sturdy but decorative walk in cage to keep all those friggin’ critters out!

    • Chloris says:

      Well your Mike is so handy I should think he could knock you up some veggie beds. The Pianist did mine and he doesn’ t usually tackle anything unless he can stick it together with duct tape.
      You do have such problems with your teeming wildlife. They would probably work out how to get into the cage. They seem to devote their lives to outwitting you.

  14. Wow, the English gardens always amaze me. Fabulous. I think if I had unlimited funds, I would collect Bromeliads and have acres of them with Heliconias and Palms from all over the world. And irrigation and a man to mulch and weed, Heaven.

    • Chloris says:

      This garden is very special.
      I have seen just the garden you describe as your heaven. . It is one of my favourite places. It is Le Jardin de Balata in the middle of the rain forest in Martinique. I have never seen so many different bromeliads, heliconas and palms grown in such a beautiful and imaginative way. It is a work of art. Do google it and see what you think.

  15. Cathy says:

    As always, an excellent post and such fun reading the comments too. I have made the long trek twice, as you know, and of course it was worth it – your last paragraph sums it up and its a shame people sre critical about the pleasure Alan and Graham so clearly get from their indulgence. And wish list? Bigger garden and of course a swimming pool – but covered, thank you very much! I look forward to both arriving in the post very soon☺

  16. Sam says:

    I’ve never been here but it’s on my list – thank you for this tour. It looks amazing. As for ‘if money were no object’, I’d hire some help, do some serious new hard landscaping, move the dilapidated garage and build one with a studio above looking out over the sea. I’d buy more trees. I’d rebuild the greenhouse by the garden wall and make it bigger. I’d….. Better stop now!

    • Chloris says:

      No, don’ t stop. We have to have our dreams even if some of them are impractical and out of reach. A studio overlooking the sea, that sounds wonderful. I have always fancied a tower like Vita Sackville West’ s at Sissinghurst. I’ d sit there surrounded by books and write deathless prose.

  17. Fabulous. I hope I can get there some day.

  18. Brian Skeys says:

    While the garden may be over the top for some, I found it stimulating and inspiring and the tea room wonderful. It inspired me to extend the potting shed to display my modest collection of old garden tools. If I had the funds I would create an arboretum.

    • Chloris says:

      I love the tearoom . The tea and cakes are wonderful and they have such pretty china too. I peeped into the toolshed and I have been dreaming about potting sheds ever since. I think it will be my next big project.
      An arboretum, how wonderful that would be – a gift for future generations.

  19. Incredible! Looks absolutely amazing, from top to bottom. What is the small tree next to the brugmansia, covered with blue flowers? Looks a little solonaceae-y. And is that a tibouchina as well, close by? This is definitely going on The List. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      It is beautiful, you would love it. The tree is a Solanum rantonnetii. Not hardy of course. And the tibouchina is huge. Whenever I try them they look so straggly.
      The pots are huge, they leave the pots out, but dig up all the tender plants for winter.

  20. Peter Herpst says:

    What an amazing garden! I love the exuberance of this place and the many treats to be savored, especially all of those delicious succulents! If I ever get back to your part of the world I would certainly try to visit this garden. Thank you for the fabulous tour and for mentioning my modest greenhouse. If money were no object, more space would be delightful. As it is, if I must have some new plant, it means that one already in the garden must go to make room. A helper would also be nice but I wonder what that would feel like. Now, every uneven path, each poorly planned bed, all the mistakes are my own as are the few minor triumphs and I can truly say this is my garden. Would it feel the same on a multi-acre site with a helper or a staff of them? Realistically though, I’d love to have a space with views of something other than neighbor’s houses.

    • Chloris says:

      I think you would love this garden Peter. I know what you mean about the feeling of ownership when you have done everything yourself. Every plant is yours because you have planted it and very often grown it from seed. But I think most people would like more space and a bit of help.

  21. Annette says:

    Whatever people say, the owners seem passionate and their plants very happy so what. 32 acres of garden – gosh, a bit of a nightmare though if you’re not the RHS. The Brugmansia are just awesome. You can’t help admiring these guys for their seemingly endless energy.

  22. snowbird says:

    What an amazing garden, they must have teams of people taking care of it! You could easily lose yourself in there! I did enjoy it all.
    I’d settle for an indestructible lawn, one the dogs couldn’t run bare….I loved the Outlaw Gardener’s greenhouse, how fabulous!xxx

  23. Chloris says:

    They say they have 3 full time gardeners and extra help with certain jobs. I should think they must get extra help with their miles and miles of hedges. Part of the woodland is like a maze and yes we did keep getting lost.
    I don’ t know what sort of a lawn that would be that could survive your mad three dogs.
    Yes, the Outlaw Gardener’ s Greenhouse is great, just the place for a day like today when the wind is a north easterly.

  24. Right now my extravagance would be hired help of the strong kind. Then I could dream of a greenhouse and then an arboretum!

  25. That is a remarkable garden. First of all, I am amazed that Norfolk has such a mild climate, wind or no wind. So many striking plants – starting with those orange Brugmansias. The Commelina are extremely fetching, and the Lobelia tupa make quite a statement. I love the sculpture in the third picture. This looks like one of those gardens you could visit every day for a week.

    • Chloris says:

      This garden is close to the sea which keeps it relatively frost- free. I am going to try the commelina from seed next year.
      Yes, the garden merits visits at different times of the year. I am going to try and visit in spring and early summer, I think they are closed in winter.

  26. Lavinia Ross says:

    Beautiful gardens! I love that hole in the hedge!

  27. Chloris says:

    I wish I had got a better shot to show up the lighthouse. There is another hole at the other end to give a glimpse of the old church.

  28. annie_h says:

    That looks like a fabulous garden, love all the exotics, the Brugmansias looked amazing. Looks crammed full of unusual plants. I love the vibrant blues in the last few photos. What passionate gardeners

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