Alan Gray's Norfolk gardens

Renowned gardener Alan Gray, who co-designed the gorgeous garden at East Ruston Old Vicarage, gives us advice on enjoying Norfolk's gardens.

Alan Gray on Norfolk gardens

Situated as it is on the East Coast of England and with half of it surrounded by the North Sea, Norfolk is a place of intrigue and it can feel somewhat isolated.

However, I think that should read exclusive, for it contains many horticultural gems for the tourist who stumbles upon it and once they stumble, they return again and again.

The county contains many fine houses with grand gardens that are open to the public, but there are many smaller, more intimate gardens that open too, some on a regular basis, others for various charities, especially the National Gardens Scheme where a jolly fine afternoon tea is almost as important as the garden itself!

For those of you not aware of the fact, many Norfolk NGS gardens open by appointment, so should you be planning a trip to our beloved county consider booking a few garden visits, you will most likely get the garden to yourself.

There is something compelling about visiting other peoples' gardens for it's not just the garden that's the subject of the visitor's curiosity but their houses and the garden owners' themselves. This is referred to as the 'snoop factor' - human beings being inquisitive creatures.

One thing is assured, wherever you go you will receive an exceedingly warm and friendly Norfolk welcome. Many of these gardens sell plants too and more often than not they are a very good source for rare and unusual varieties that modern nurseries do not stock.

Being one of the largest counties in England, Norfolk needs time to do it justice for garden visiting cannot be hurried; there is a wealth of accommodation available from the smallest Bed and Breakfast to the grand Country House Hotel. Here at East Ruston Old Vicarage we have a garden of some 32 acres around 20 of which are laid out as formal gardens which are open on five afternoons a week. We provide links to eight places to stay that in our opinion are of superior quality and we know the owners personally so that you get the personal touch too.

Norfolk has a great many plant nurseries and garden centres too and these are worth seeking out for those keen on horticulture. In fact there is the Norfolk Nursery Network which is a group of plant nurseries that produce a leaflet and a map informing the visitor of their various locations.

Some of our plant nurseries are extremely well known such as Peter Beales Roses in the south of the county at Attleborough or Thorncroft Clematis Nursery at Reymerston, both of which regularly win gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. In fact, we are working closely with Thorncroft on the new 'Clematis Walk' at The Old Vicarage as we did with Peter Beales when constructing our 'Rose Garden'.

Other nurseries, less well-known but also excellent, specialise in grasses and variegated plants, hardy geraniums and herbs. In fact, there is something for everyone.

One of Norfolk's sons, the famous 18th century landscape designer Humphrey Repton, who was responsible for Sheringham Park, referred to his 'Darling Norfolk, my most preferred place on earth'.

When you visit us, perhaps you will begin to understand why Repton loved Norfolk so much.

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