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The enchanting garden where visitors ‘go out holding hands’

PUBLISHED: 12:19 26 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:19 26 August 2018

The glorious Water Gardens at Gooderstone  Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL

The glorious Water Gardens at Gooderstone Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL

Archant

Do you get twitchy as autumn approaches and the number of gardens opening to the public drops off? Remember there’s a super garden open every day – even Christmas Day

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I’m from Suffolk, so I’ve got an excuse. Honestly. Because some enchanting water gardens not so very far from the Norfolk/Suffolk border had slipped under my radar. I’m sure many people know them well, but for me they were a well-kept secret. Until the other Saturday.

There was a time, too many years ago than I care to admit, when I was regularly up and down the road between Thetford and King’s Lynn, but I don’t think there was a sign pointing to the nearby Water Gardens. Shame.

It took an August holiday in Hunstanton (who needs over-sizzling Spain when we live in the best region in Britain?) to make the gardens a secret no more. (Thanks to a leaflet in the flat.) So, we broke our journey home with a stop at Gooderstone.

You have to go, if you can.

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A quick summary won’t do it justice (for that we need to look at all the photos we can find, or, best, visit) but here’s a scene-setter for those, like me, who don’t know the place:

Gooderstone Water Gardens cover half a dozen acres, with four ponds, a natural trout stream, mature trees and shrubs (ie, tall), 13 bridges (numbered, so it’s hard to lose your bearings – and one of them Monet-esque), colourful and sculptural borders, waterways, grassy paths, a nature trail, benches on which to rest a-while, kingfisher hide and tearoom.

One of the great things is that it never closes. You can even visit on Christmas Day.

Have you noticed, too, that the best gardens always have good stories and histories attached to them? The Water Gardens do.

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Retired farmer Billy Knights, then approaching 70, started designing and making them in 1970. Apparently, the location – a damp meadow – was too wet for grazing cattle. Billy’s son quipped that dad should have a water garden, so dad was soon drawing blueprints on the back of a piece of wallpaper. Before long, machines were digging the ponds and waterways.

The gardens, by then having been open to the public for more than two decades, benefited from their creator’s labour and love until he died at the age of 93.

Then came a pause until the spring of 2002, when Coral Hoyos started restoring this haven so much adored by her father, and his wife Florence.

The gardens had been shut for five years and, by all accounts, become pretty derelict. The big reopening came in the summer of 2003 – revived gardens, plus extras such as a new car park and revamped tearoom.

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The publicity literature describes Gooderstone as an enchanting garden, and that’s no glib boast. Little wonder there were so many nature photographers there when we visited under blue skies.

We enjoyed watching plenty of pretty dragonflies and damselflies (not that I can reliably tell them apart) but didn’t spot any kingfishers. But we did find the homemade cakes, and squeezed some plants (bought ones!) into the gaps between the luggage when we left.

Coral believes a garden is more than a collection of horticultural specimens. “It should have atmosphere, should touch the senses and be a place people are happy to be in,” she told me.

“My old dad used to say ‘Do you know, Coral, they come in walking one behind the other and go out holding hands’!”

Now the secret’s out, we’ll be back.

Want to visit?

Gooderstone Water Gardens, The Street, Gooderstone, near King’s Lynn, PE33 9BP (six miles southwest of Swaffham).

Garden & wildlife area open every day of the year: 10am to 5.30pm (or dusk if sooner). Last admission 4.30pm.

2018 prices: Adult £6.75, senior £6.25, accompanied child (0 to 16 years) free. Gooderstone residents £3.50

Users of electric wheelchair or buggy: £3.50. Wheelchair user and pusher charged as one

Note: No credit card payments.

Dogs on leads welcome, as long as they’re with a well-behaved owner!

Tearoom open every day to end of October, if weather fair. Call 01366 328118/01366 328007 to check.

PS: What about this as an idea for a Christmas present? – a season ticket for £20 per person; valid for a year. Visit during each of the four seasons and it’s a real bargain.

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