Inspired by the eloquent voice of George Plumptre CEO of the National Garden Scheme announcing the start of the Snowdrop Festival I decided to visit East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden http://www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk who were hosting their own Snowdrop Specialist Growers Day.
The owners Graham and Alan warmly welcomed us in the car park directing us to park under the crab apple trees which despite the cold, were still looking so good against today’s blue sky.
The entry fee was modest and it was good to see the knowledgeable Ian handing out the newly printed NGS Norfolk “Gardens open for charity” booklet. Nearby a Chusan palm trachycarpus fortunei, bathed in morning sunlight seemed to wave us on,
and around the corner the air was filled with the delicious scent of Daphne Bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’.
East Ruston has its own nursery, guarded by friendly dogs,
but it is for the snowdrops that we have really come, not carpeted on the ground but displayed in neat rows on tables by the keen and knowledgeable nursery people who breed them.
Known as ‘Galanthophiles’, it seems such a chunky word for these delightful collectors of such a tiny flowers. With so very many varieties how do you choose?
I am still very much in the learning stage, but with what might seem rather oversized labels it is easy to read their charming names. I am looking for Galanthus plicatus ‘Three ships’, an early flowering snowdrop often out before Christmas and discovered in a garden in Suffolk; I discover it is not on display so order if from Joe Sharman from Monksilver Nursery.
I spy a tray on the ground; characters in the waiting so to speak, and looking just how they do peeping through the snow.
Under this hat is John. It was in his garden a couple of years ago that I began to have my first stirrings of galanthomania and bought the beautiful ‘Tilly’. John and his wife Brenda will be opening their garden Gable House just south of Beccles for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday 17th February. Today I buy three more beauties to add to my modest collection, Trumps, Chequers and my first yellow Spindlestone Surprise.
With such fine purchases made, my friend and I celebrate with a sausage roll and a cheese scone in the tea room before walking round the garden. I have only ever been here in the summer so it is interesting to see the bare bones of the garden.
In the winter you notice the structures so much more, the archways, hedges and the elegant metal obelisks with their neatly trained roses.
It will be awhile before the plants emerge from this (frozen) water-filled magnificent container, but along with its great size it is the weathering of the copper to an attractive verdigris which we can admire today.
Planted in the beds are a variety of snowdrops; this good sized clump is ‘Colossus’ which sports rather handsome foliage.
With 30 acres of gardens to explore, it is easy to immerse oneself and forget that there is a world outside, just occasionally there is a little reminder; in the far distance Happisburgh lighthouse can be seen,
and on the other side of the garden the parish church is framed in the view.
It amazes me how some flowers can survive undamaged following a severely frosty night and this joyful Camellia is seemingly untouched.
It is during these winter months that we can appreciate and enjoy the rich tapestry of greens from stems and leaves,
and you cannot help but enjoy this great combination of Silver Birch, Cornus and Skimmia.
At first I am not sure whether it is my eyesight but this Pussy Willow growing gracefully in a pot is definitely pink; originally from Japan it is Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’.
It is at this time of year that you appreciate those clipped shapes whether it is in Box, Beech or Yew.
This tree on a corner is firmly rooted into the swirl of low Box hedging that seamlessly runs into the wooden bench.
The garden is divided into so many different areas, many of which will come into play in those warm summer months ahead; you might be forgiven for thinking the Desert Garden might be one of those, however today you would never know it is winter.
Walking back to the house we admire this striking seat framed by the hedge,
and the collection of neatly clipped topiary.
Then just by the house in the perfect place is an explosion of colour and scent, a Golden Mimosa Acacia baileyana is underplanted with Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’.
Alan Gray can be heard most weeks on Radio Norfolk’s ‘Garden Party’ programme. He is an Ambassador for the National Garden Scheme and he will be opening his amazing gardens at East Ruston, Norfolk twice this year on Saturday 9th March and Saturday 12th October https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/12923