Army of gardeners on border patrol at Felbrigg Hall

An army of volunteers including a wartime 'land girl' are launching their spring offensive on the gardens at a north Norfolk stately home.

Platoons of helpers are cultivating borders and watering seedlings as Felbrigg Hall preens its grounds for the season ahead.

Among them is 86-year-old Sue Eldershaw whose love of outdoor work was propagated in the second world war during five years in the Women's Land Army which did the work of young farmers away fighting for their country.

'I loved it - getting up at 5.30am to milk the cows, but doing all the farm jobs from haymaking to harvesting which could do on until 10pm,

'On my first day the cowman asked if I wanted a drink, and squirted a teet in my face,' recalled Mrs Eldershaw from Buckland Rise in Eaton.

After retiring to Norfolk 30 years ago, after a working life as a teacher and mother-of-three, she rekindled her outdoor activities when she joined the Felbrigg volunteers 11 years ago after responding to an advert in the library.

Two days a week she heads to the hall near Cromer to join a growing team who tackle a range of jobs from weeding and watering to grass cutting, pruning and planting.

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Mrs Eldershaw, who also enjoys gardening back home, specialises in propagating plants and is often found in the plastic tunnel greenhouses.

'The Land Army got me in the mood for physical work. I need to be doing something to be satisfied, and hope it helps a little,' she added.

Senior gardener Ian Clarke, who co-ordinates the volunteers, said it helped a lot by bolstering the small team of a handful of staff gardeners.

'We get extra pairs of hands. It helps when you are faced with planning 5,000 bulbs.

'And we all work as a big happy family. People say they like the chatter they hear as they go around at the gardens.'

The pool of more than 35 volunteers give an average of half a day a week, working in the walled garden - where there are flowering plants and vegetables - and the west garden with its larger, wilder azaleas, and rhododendrons.

But they were always in need of more volunteers, as is the hall itself which is short of stewards at the end of the week. Anyone interested should call 01263 837444.