Alan and Graham Robeson arrived at East Ruston Old Vicarage in 1973, buying the property at auction. Back then there was no garden whatsoever, it was a blank canvas. Over the years they have transformed the space into one that has grown in importance and popularity and is now known worldwide. Having originally created the gardens for themselves, sharing them and seeing how much others appreciate them a bonus. Here Alan talks to Gina Long...

How has Covid-19 impacted your lives?

Fortunately, we have space so Covid has not impacted on us too much. We have adapted routes around the garden so that visitors can observe social distancing and we ask all to use common sense in respect of this. Whatever the future holds, we shall endeavour to cope with respect and the necessary precautions.

What is your connection to Norfolk?

I was born in Norfolk as was Graham’s mother so, our connections run deep. Norfolk is a county that offers so much both to those who live within its borders and to those who visit and will, I suspect leave having fallen under its spell.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?

My East Anglian Heaven must be our garden, which I think of as a paradise in sadly what’s an ever more hostile world. It is a place of refuge and calmness, not just for us but for all those who visit. We have season tickets for those who live close enough to come regularly who feel similarly. What I like most about living here is the rich history of our county, the diversity of nature and the fact that you really can get away from everything, all you need to do is find a walk.

What is your East Anglian hell?

I don’t really have an East Anglian Hell although, the increase in the traffic on our roads, especially in the countryside is a pity but one has to realise that increased traffic equals increased finance for the county with tourists spending monies with our local businesses. There is nothing I hate about living here, at all.

What is your favourite landmark here?

Norwich cathedral ranks very highly. Years ago, when I travelled frequently between London and Norwich, I would see the spire from Norwich train station and instantly feel at home. The monument at Holkham Hall is also a favourite as is the house in fact, the whole estate encapsulates the history, style and steadfastness of the family Coke.

Eastern Daily Press: East Ruston Old Vicarage, Nr HappisburghEast Ruston Old Vicarage, Nr Happisburgh (Image: Marcus Harpur)

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

From a gardening perspective, when spring arrives, and we have a whole year of the pleasure of anticipation before us. The freshness of the first snowdrops, sweetpeas, roses, the garden getting better and full of plumpness and volume. The longest day and later the light becoming soft and caressing until the year winds down and it is time to hibernate, although gardeners seldom do this! Seasonal food, Cromer crabs and Lobsters, Strawberries at the right time ripened naturally by the sun and the panoply of choice from fruit to truffles, it’s all here if you know where to look.

What is your favourite restaurant?

There are several and they are different so I do not think it would not be fair to single out just one. The Ingham Swan for the modern cuisine cooked by Danial Smith and his capable team. Bure Cottage, the fish restaurant in Horning where the fish is so fresh you can taste the sea, don’t eat too late because, sometimes there are limited amounts, and it can sell out fast. The Beechwood Hotel in North Walsham, slightly old-fashioned in that you get smart white table napery and since Hugh and his special staff have been there, goes from strength to strength with fresh and locally sourced produce producing delicious food in a welcoming atmosphere.

What is your Mastermind subject?

Garden related I think, Pelargoniums might be a choice. I know a little about lots of the aspects of gardening. I do not really specialise as I learn something new nearly every day. Although I have no formal training in horticulture, I am inquisitive by nature. My favourite words as a child were why and how!

Eastern Daily Press: The gardens at East RustonThe gardens at East Ruston (Image: Supplied)

What is always in your fridge?

Cheese. Comte and Edam are firm favourites. Mayonnaise for the lift it gives to more mundane food and Champagne for me, even I need an occasional pep up.

What is your favourite film?

I love to escape whilst watching a film so, ‘Gosford Park’ is right up my street, history, fantasy, and a stunning house, I am right in there with all of the characters.

What was your first job?

Post Boy at Anglia Television. I thought it the most glamorous position, seeing famous faces, watching the process of the production of plays for television. Anglia Television was a hub for visiting ‘stars’ and I sometimes got to park very smart and expensive motor cars. Do I confess to having a joy ride or two around the city of Norwich?

What is your most treasured possession?

It has to be health and strength. Material things are not important, most can be replaced. Although once you have had something material, if it goes, would you really want a replacement? The paeony that Granny gave me from her garden, and which flowers every year, not bad for a present that must be 65 years old.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

I am lucky to have seen more of the world than most people. If I could choose a winter destination it would be New Zealand which I visited some years ago. It was fascinating to arrive on January 1 and to be confronted with summer! Closer to home, the Amalfi coast with a Mediterranean view would do nicely.

Best day of your life?

The day that I met Graham nearly 50 years ago. Where has the time gone? We are lucky to have had and are having an enchanted life.

Eastern Daily Press: The gardens at East Ruston in NorfolkThe gardens at East Ruston in Norfolk (Image: Marcus Harpur)

What is your favourite breakfast?

Toasted five seed with spelt loaf from Bread of Haven. It’s the best served with tomatoes braised in olive oil and homemade marmalade on any toast left over no butter!

What is your favourite tipple?

Red wine with supper. I don’t really have a preference but Amarone is good but strong, so should you try it. Watch out!

What is your hidden talent?

I think that that is yet to be discovered. I am always trying new things so who knows, although I am pretty good at bringing a room together without redoing every single thing. Like me, my rooms have evolved over time and contain fascinating objects and great comfort.

What is your earliest memory?

Being pushed in a perambulator by my mother the three miles from our house to my grandparents and wanting to scramble out and delve in to verges on the side of the lanes. It was always sunny of course!

Tell us something that people don’t know about you

I am a mean tap dancer and I love old cars. I know nothing about them, but I know one or two things about mechanics.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

I would like to ask your readers to do their best, try hard and appreciate their surroundings, see the good things in life. Our garden here is our proudest achievement and to share that with others is a joy. However, note to self...don’t feel too proud for fear that it may cause complacency! Please do come along and visit us, for more information go to

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