Part of the reason we garden and visit gardens is to escape: from ugliness to beauty, from tension to tranquillity, from noise to peace. The mobile phone is changing all that. On a gorgeous day in late summer the garden of The Old Vicarage at East Ruston, Norfolk, was full of the mindless DIDDLEDADA-DIDDLEDADA-DIDDLEDADA-DA of telephones, full of hideous summonses to the outside world that the garden's owners, Graham Robeson and Alan Gray, have tried so carefully to exclude. By a vast brugmansia, in extravagant apricot bloom, a woman in red shrieked, 'You're breaking up Malcolm, you're breaking up.' Out of the extraordinary great fronds of the tree ferns in the North Garden came a shrill voice, 'Quick, quick. I'm running out of credit.' Fortissimo from the other side of an ilex hedge, 'I'm losing my signal. I'm going to have to call you back.' It's difficult to commune with the spirit of place with these crescendoes of panic erupting all over the place. They pierce through the amiable conversational buzz of gardeners like thorns in flesh. They are impossible to ignore.
I've given up supposing that the one designated quiet carriage on the train from the West Country to London will actually be quiet. Even at half past six in the morning, aggressive suits step into it shouting into their handsets. But in a garden, the poison of mobile phones is even more intrusive, as carefully crafted illusions are shattered by the banality of computer-generated ring tones.
But what about the garden itself, which has grown hugely both in size and reputation, since the owners acquired the empty brick house and two acres in 1973? Well, it's rather extraordinary, wildly theatrical, a garden made now as much it seems for public performance as private pleasure. If I lived closer, I'd get a season ticket (available for £14) because there's far too much there to digest in a single visit. I was dizzy with images after only 10 of the 30 different 'happenings' that now cover more than 30 acres.
Graham Robeson and Alan Gray's great achievement has been to create shelter in this vast empty landscape only a few miles from the North Sea. They planted huge boundary belts of Monterey pine to filter the worst of the wind, with eucalyptus and Italian alders as additional defences inside. They've also created the illusion that land rises and falls within the garden, although when they took over,Reuse content