East Ruston Old Vicarage
The garden here at East Ruston Old Vicarage is twenty years old this year and my, how the intervening years have flown. However, we did not intend to make such a large garden in the beginning; in reality, all we wanted was to have some shelter for the garden here as it is situated in what can only be called prairie landscape. The reason for this is that the farmers all around us have, in the cause of progress, made yet bigger fields for bigger yields. In so doing they have also swept away great tracts of hedging, ditching, wild banks and ponds.
We became aware of this when some friends gave us a black and white slide of an aerial shot of the house and garden taken in the 1960s. The field to the south of the house was roughly 100 acres but, as was obvious from looking at the slide, it had originally been 26 much smaller fields. This got us thinking about just how much wild-life habitat had simply disappeared and, having had the opportunity to purchase some extra land, we decided, with the help from a 19th century ordinance survey map, it would be rather fun to put back some of these small field boundaries. Our idea at the time was to give ourselves some shelter from the almost ever present wind and to be able to walk our dogs without leaving our own land.
How things change. Having planted tree shelter belts, the land suddenly became more hospitable and, with this hospitality, came the notion that certain parts of the original garden might appear more impressive if they were scaled up in size. One of the first pieces of garden that we tackled was the Long Borders. In the original two acre garden these were quite modest in size; suddenly they could be almost as large as we liked. The temptation was too much, so we decided to move them. This could be likened to moving one picture in your house; move one and you need to move all the others. It was the same with the garden!
Having got the opportunity to carry out garden design on a larger scale, suddenly there was no stopping us for we could design with the idea of creating magical vistas both within the garden itself, but we could also borrow from the landscape by creating views on some local churches, including our own, St. Mary’s East Ruston, the churchyard of which adjoins our garden.
It was also very important to consider the house when designing the garden. This is an Arts and Crafts house built in 1913 and not grand in any way, therefore the garden had to connect to it so that it sits comfortably in its landscape. It was also very important to make sure that the various gardens that reside within the garden as a whole were not too large but remained domestic in scale. It was also essential to keep these areas reasonably compact for, having given the garden a shelter belt of tall trees, it was necessary to keep the prevailing winds above our heads. I am very pleased to report that this we have achieved with huge success, so much so that the temperature within the garden can be as much as 6 degrees higher than outside its boundaries.
Today our garden is some 32 acres in extent and covers so many aspects of horticultural skill: from the Desert, the Mediterranean garden, meadows and cornfields with wild flowers and bulbs by the thousand, to the Dutch Garden, the Sunk Garden, the Long Borders, the Vegetable and Cutting Gardens, the Stock Borders, Woodland Garden and Parkland. Here you will find something for everyone. Some years ago we opened our garden for charity and the response was overwhelming; today we open on four afternoons a week for seven months of the year and still the garden, and the owners, continue to wow visitors from across the world, probably because we have such an optimistic outlook, for we firmly believe that all of our visitors give us pleasure, some by arriving, others by leaving, for such is the nature of the human psyche, we should not and cannot like everybody!
Alan Gray and his partner Graham Robeson have built a stunning garden over the last 20 years. The article does not do it sufficient credit. Visit their website