Waterperry House, near Wheatley, is a mecca for gardeners and, although it is only seven miles from Oxford city centre, you feel you are a world away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

The eight-acre garden, which attracts 30,000 visitors a year, has world-famous autumn borders that are among the most admired in England. On January 20 Waterperry is throwing open the whole 80-acre estate to the public - for free.

It will be possible to visit the orchards and nursery, as well as the eight acre garden, and the experienced staff (many who have spent their working life in the gardens of the house) will be on hand to share their expertise and enthusiasm.

Fruit has been grown in and around Waterperry for centuries, but commercial apple growing only began in the years after the Second World War. The harvest provided an income for Miss Havergal's famous gardening school for ladies which opened in 1932.

Fruit was taken to their shop in Oxford's Covered Market, and many lady students can remember cycling round the colleges delivering fresh fruit and vegetables.

The famous Royal Sovereign' strawberry, which collected nine Gold Medals at Chelsea between 1955 and 1970, was also discovered here.

Apples are now sold in the garden shop, but some of the fruit is used to make juice. You will be able to see how theymake their delicious apple juice from fruit gathered from the expertly-managed orchards.

Chris Lanczak, who started work at the garden manay years ago, straight from school, produces 25,000 bottles of juice, aided by another member of staff, Rob Jacob, who has worked at Waterperry for almost 30 years. Rob singles out the sweet juice of Crispin as his favourite - although he thinks it is a dull apple to eat!

Miss Havergal's regime was tough but thorough and the gardening school (1932-1971) produced several famous lady alumnae including Mary Spiller (who has trained huge numbers of gardeners in Oxfordshire), the brilliant Pamela Schwerdt and Sybille Kreutzberger (who worked with Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst), Valerie Finnis (a tremendous gardener who sadly died last year, aged 82) and Sue Dickinson (reputedly the best head gardener in England).

Waterperry still train its their staff and runs courses for the public and it has the expertise to propagate a range of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.The nursery staff graft and train 20 different varieties of apple, as well as other fruit, and most are sold in the garden shop as bare-root, one-year-old maidens.

You can also buy cordons, fans and espaliers and some larger trees are also containerised. There is also a full range of fruit bushes and raspberry canes.

Nursery staff also produce a huge range of herbaceous perennials propagated from plants in the garden. In summer the divisions are lined out before being lifted and potted up in the traditional manner.

The range and quality are excellent , especially in an age when so many plants are weakened by being tunnel-grown in soft peat, or by micropropagation. Both are recipes for failure.

Ninety per cent of the 25,000 herbaceous perennials sold are produced on site. Six hundred different shrubs are also supplied, some propagated from specimens planted by the head gardener Bryn Williams and Mary Spiller - who continues to act as a consultant at Waterperry. The nursery propagator, Ray Smith, learnt his art from Mary.

The alpine saxifrage collection, started by Valerie Finnis in the mid-1980s and now an National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens National Collection, will also be open to the public on January 20.

Although we will still be in winter's grip, the garden is bound to be stirring with snowdrops, crocus and aconites beginning to flower among the hellebores. The formal gardens, with their neatly clipped box, will also look stunning in their winter livery and there are plenty of evergreens and winter-flowering shrubs to admire as well.

After a winter walk I suggest you head for for the Pear Tree restaurant which specialises in serving up home-baked fare. The cakes, scones and pastries are delicious and the hot meals usually contain local produce, some of it may be grown on the estate. And if you enjoy your visit, invest in a season ticket. It will be the best £17.50 you will ever spend - and it will help ensure Waterperry's horticultural heritage.

For information about Waterperry Gardens call 01844 339 226