September 26, 2023

Chat show peeks into garden story

A well-known Norfolk garden owner is set to open the door to a potting shed of “surprising facts” – including rumours of gun-running – in a live chat show heading to Sheringham Little Theatre.

Alan Gray has co-owned East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden with partner Graham Robeson for 50 years.

The pair turned an empty building with 3ft high grass into a stunning 32-acre site that mixes a suite of formal gardens, including woodland, desert and Mediterranean themes with scenic views of Happisburgh lighthouse.

It has become a major tourist attraction and Alan also became well-known as a regular contributor to BBC Radio Norfolk’s Garden Party programme.

Now he is rekindling his link with Anna Perrott, presenter of the now-axed show, in a talk at the theatre on October 14 which will be a fundraiser for the arts venue.

Alan said: “It will be a spontaneous chat including some things you maybe never knew, such as the philosophy behind the garden, how we first set up and some anecdotes.”

Without giving away too many “spoilers” he said: “When we bought the place in the 1970s, two gentlemen sharing a home was frowned upon a bit.

“We were mysterious figures who came up from London in a black car. There were rumours about us being arms dealers, and when the hedges went up people thought it was a nudist colony.

“It didn’t help with the man mowing our lawn talked to a curious passer-by and said he was cutting a landing strip,” he chuckled.

The garden was initially planned as a place for the pair to walk their dogs but after a one-off opening for the Norfolk Gardens Trust charity there was a change of direction.

“Because of the fascination with us, more than 1,300 people turned up – so the mystique was useful. We decided to open it more regularly which would help pay for staff to help us do the garden better.

“Now we really enjoy hosting people and it has become not just our garden but one for everyone,” said Alan.

Earlier this year the couple, both 77, announced that in their wills they plan to leave the site to a charity that supports people working in horticulture so the public use can continue into the future.

Tickets for An Evening with Alan Gray and Anna Perrott can be bought here or through the box office on 01263 822347.

The garden closes on October 29 for its winter work programme. General admission price £13. More information at

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