Norfolk’s gardening queen on making a mean meringue, rhubarb gin and, er, Les Dawson...

PUBLISHED: 12:12 03 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:12 03 May 2019

Julia Stafford Allen county organiser for the Norfolk National Garden scheme

Julia Stafford Allen county organiser for the Norfolk National Garden scheme


Gina Long talks to Julia Stafford Allen, County Organiser for the Norfolk National Garden Scheme, about the things she loves and hates about East Anglia. Clue: they’re pretty much all related to gardens, although Les Dawson gets a mention!

Julia's gardenJulia's garden

What is your connection to East Anglia?

My mother was originally from Norfolk and I was born in Hertfordshire. When I was six my parents moved to Norfolk in order to farm.

What is your East Anglian Heaven i.e. what do you love most about East Anglia?

East Anglia has a rich history of horticulture and there is great variety of gardens.

What is your East Anglian Hell i.e. what you hate most about living here?

There is not much to hate here, except perhaps hospital parking.

What's your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

The Brisley Bell.

What's your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

In the garden.

What's your favourite East Anglian landmark?

Houghton Hall. History, sculpture, walled garden, the landscape and they are great supporters of the National Garden Scheme

What's the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

The launch of the Norfolk National Garden Scheme booklet in early February. It heralds the garden visiting year, and allows me to plan ahead.

What is your specialist Mastermind subject?

Garden tourism from Tudor times to the present.

What is always in your fridge?

Herman – my sour dough culture.

What's your simple philosophy of life?

Never expect anything and you will not be disappointed.

What's your favourite film?

Paddington 2.

What was your first job?

I worked in a busy stable yard in Norfolk.

What is your most treasured possession?

My new Japanese secateurs – they make pruning a joy.

Who do you admire most?

Celia Fiennes – she rode side-saddle around England visiting and recording houses and gardens between 1684 and 1712.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Buying plants. I just can't resist them, especially from Westacre Gardens, where the plants are so good and the owners are so knowledgeable.

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What do you like about yourself?

Although opening your garden for the National Garden Scheme is rewarding, I do know it is hard work and as I open my garden in August I suppose I could say that I am 'a good doer'.

What's your worst character trait?

I am very travel sick.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Italy, where there are so many glorious gardens.

Best day of your life?

When we moved into our house over 30 years ago.

Favourite breakfast?

Plain yoghurt mixed with a spoonful of honey, chopped up crispy apple and hazelnuts accompanied by a mug of Breakfast Blend tea from Fortnum and Mason.

What's your favourite tipple?

G & T and there are so many different types now. I particularly enjoy rhubarb gin.

What's your hidden talent?

I make a mean meringue.

When were you most embarrassed?

Waiting at a bus stop heavily pregnant, I thought the large girl standing next to me was also pregnant, so asked her when she was due – she wasn't. The bus was ages in coming.

What's your earliest memory?

Riding my trike along paths lined with Box hedging.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.

Tell us something people don't know about you?

I am a Les Dawson fan.

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

Boarding a plane once, someone said they made sure they never sat near a disabled person that might hinder their exit in case of an emergency; I was quite shocked that anyone should think like that.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

I was very fortunate to inherit my house from a distant relation; it was a complete surprise and have always felt that I was meant to live here.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

If you are unable to open your garden for the National Garden Scheme, then visiting one of the gardens can be not only fun and interesting but also good for the soul; you don't have to be an artist to enjoy an exhibition or a musician to enjoy a concert and so in the same way you do not have to be a gardener to appreciate a garden. Get out and enjoy a visit to a garden open for the National Garden Scheme, whilst helping to raise funds for important nursing and health charities:

Follow Gina Long @geewizzgee1 or email

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