Monday, 12 May 2014

East Ruston Old Vicarage

It's not everyday you see a lighthouse through the hedge. But at East Ruston Old Vicarage, the many sneaky peeks borrowed from the Norfolk landscape beyond serve to mock the digital zoom on my phone camera and leave me pining for the heavy DSLR camera I've left at home.  The regret grows as I walk around this stunning garden, a photographers' paradise with its clever contrasts between restraint and exuberance, and find floral thunderbolts to zap me at virtually every turn.  Vistas, walkways with dramatic topiary shadows, contrasting textures and rivulets of colour abound.  I walk, grateful to live in the digital age, unconstrained by the number of exposures on a roll of film.  It's a relief for my trigger finger to come across areas newly cleared or cut back for regeneration - a break from having my mind boggled by plants and design-envy.

And it's also a sign that this is a garden on the move - no resting on laurels here.

Weaving through the maze like garden rooms, there is  always something to draw you on - viewpoints are cut, window-like into carefully tended hedges:  St Mary's Church in the neighbouring village of Happisburgh is the focal point of a series of consecutive hedge windows, while the much-photographed view of the Happisburgh lighthouse is framed by greenery and big East Anglian skies.

This is a garden that makes you smile. And go 'OOOOOOH!'. And gasp in astonishment. Sometimes all at once.  The owners, Graham Robeson and Alan Gray, say that visitors may find the planting either shocking or soothing, but their eye for form, structure and colour rarely goes astray.  

When I visited, the Rembrant tulip displays in the Dutch Garden were fading, but gave an inkling of the glorious display which they must have made in their pomp during the previous weeks.  Stuffed into the spaces in disciplined topiary, they reminded me of red and yellow football fans yelling from within terraced enclosures. More restrained tulips preened, still silky and sleek: Queen of the Night and a variety with petals the colour of cinder toffee combined with studied ease to complement their mossy terracotta container.

(If you'd like to see these and more photos of the East Ruston, you can visit my Pinterest board.)

Tree peonies were the flower of the moment - the yellow 'lutea' and unnamed, fragrant pink and deep cerise varieties with blooms the size of your head.  Sharp intakes of breath (metaphorical and literal) when approaching those.  If anyone out there knows the variety name, please share!  Even Alan Gray says it is long lost when I tweeted him to try to discover it.

Covering a total of 32 acres, the East Ruston Old Vicarage garden is a joy. At first I thought the Mediterranean garden was my favourite, with the delicious racemes of cascading wisteria dripping from the walls of a small brick sumer house, but on entering the Arizona themed Desert Garden, my allegiances shifted again. Initially, I was taken simply by the plants and set out to capture their portraits, but discovered that when photographed and compressed into two dimensions, the Desert Garden becomes something really special: its layers and colours and textures blending like an embroiderer's dream to form a deep rich tapestry - not at all what I first saw when looking at the dry river bed and acid green hummocks of euphorbias

But its not just the garden rooms of this vicarage that are special - even the hallways and corridors are designed with consummate care: who wouldn't want an entrance hall like this?

or a carpet to emulate the one below?

 But just when you've decided that precision and formality are the strengths of the design (and you'd be right), you come across places where nature is allowed just to do its thing - except it has to keep off the paths - and it's brilliant!

With my tastebuds still hankering after the delicate delights of the lavender and lemon polenta cake from the tearooms, I'll leave you with my departing view of the gardens. Not a topiary in sight, just glorious flowers.

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