The second place to visit that day was East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens; I'd been told about them by a gardener I'd got chatting to at Blickling Hall when I visited there last year but I didn't get the opportunity to go then. I'd mentioned it to Jean the previous evening and she said she'd been to the gardens a couple of times and though they weren't very big they were certainly worth a look.
A short private driveway off a narrow lane took me to a tree-shaded car park and the garden entrance; unfortunately dogs weren't allowed in but the lady in the kiosk said that my ticket allowed me to come and go as much as I wanted so at least I'd be able to check on them after a while. The entrance fee was £8.50, which I thought was a bit steep for a small garden, so I was totally unprepared for what I found when I got in there and started looking round - the place was far larger than I expected, in fact it was huge.
By using box hedging, trees, borders, lawns and well laid out paths the whole area was divided into 'rooms' of different sizes, with each 'room' having a different theme - there was the Dutch Garden, Exotic Garden, Rose Garden, Mediterranean Garden and Desert Garden to name just a few. There was colour everywhere, and each time I went round a corner or through a gap in the hedge I got the surprise of seeing something completely different. Modern sculptures were dotted about here and there and in the exotic garden was an above-ground pond with a brilliant water feature made from lengths of copper pipe intricately woven and twisted together.
In one section of garden a sprinkler was spraying water over flower beds on each side of the grassy path; it had quite a long range and was turning a full 360 degrees so I had to time my photo taking so I wouldn't suddenly get hit by the jet of water. Actually getting past the thing meant waiting until its back was turned then sprinting along the path before it swung round and got me. I did it - just - and felt like I should have been given a t-shirt with 'I beat the sprinkler' written across the front of it.
Not far from where the sprinkler was doing its best to drown people I came across a couple of small enclosures with several chickens and ducks scratching about, and just round the corner from there was a small paddock with a couple of alpacas quietly grazing along the grass. Those were a complete surprise as I didn't think the gardens were the type of place to mix animals in with the flowers and plants. Eventually, after much wandering, I came to the house and its terrace full of pots and urns then finally the tea room, where I stopped for coffee and cake before returning to the van.
As I drove away from the gardens a while later I had the distinct feeling that I must have missed something, but other than going out to check on the dogs I'd been wandering round for over two hours so I thought I'd seen all the different areas. An internet check since I got home however confirmed that I had indeed missed a few things - maybe I should have bought a map from the kiosk but I didn't think about it at the time. I was very impressed with what I had seen though and I revised my opinion of the entrance fee; I have no interest at all in actual gardening but the photo opportunities alone made it well worth every penny and I'll certainly be making a return visit next year.