Term – in the form of the season-long shows and fairs roadshow – ended pretty much a month ago, so it is about time we got round to reviewing the second half of things, having left off last time at the end of June. A key feature of the second half of the show season is the occurrence of occasional weekends with no event being held, and consequently no looking out suitable plants, primping them up to look their best, then driving them to some country house estate or other in the hope that they find new owners and don’t need a return ticket for the Paddock Plants big yellow van. Which is all rather nice after the hectic madness of May and June in particular. But shows are where we sell a significant proportion of our plants, so we couldn’t afford to sit around twiddling our thumbs too much. So …..
July was dominated by two major shows: the Parham Garden Weekend – two days in deepest West Sussex – and the Garden Show at Loseley Park, a long weekend from Friday to Sunday inclusive up (for us, anyway) in Surrey. Last year these two events were marked by blistering heat and drooping showgoers too toasted to think about buying too many plants. This time, although the weather was in full-on English summer mode, sales were much better, though the Saturday at Parham was much the better day of the two and, for some contrary reason, the Saturday at Loseley Park was the dip between two good days. Both venues boast fabulous gardens and Rob was happy to sneak off for a prowl around them when things were quieter.
Early August saw us staying fairly local with the Ellingham Show held in the vast expanses of the Somerley estate near Ringwood. Asking to be located in the same avenue as last time proved productive, and Rob and Deb were kept busy throughout what is in fact a pretty long day allocating plants to their new owners. There is a good atmosphere to this show, which is hugely well attended (the fine weather helped that, we are sure) and our pitch afforded us a good view of various events involving horses and donkeys, as well as of the rather grand Somerley House itself. Rob fell in love with the gorgeous little Lagotto Romagnolo on the next-door stand: if we ever get a second dog, it would certainly be on the list for consideration. Later in the month we spent our regular three days at Kingston Lacy (though sadly not next year due to a National Trust revamp of some kind), which was as lovely as usual, with the exception of the Monday which was a Bank Holiday washout. A highlight of the Sunday was the arrival on our stand of a humming bird hawk moth which took a fancy to our Buzz series buddleias and spent quite some time hovering around their flower spikes, poking out its long proboscis to access the nectar, much to the delight of ourselves and passing customers alike.
Right at the tail end of August we took ourselves down into Somerset for the second time this season for a Rare Plant Fair at Kilver Court. Rob got himself in a tizzy on arrival when the available pitch didn’t fit our usual configuration of racks and tables: he is a bear of very little brain and changes of plan or routine confuse him very easily. Once he had been soothed and got his head around a different layout, everything was fine, weather included, and we enjoyed a spectacularly good day sales-wise. Nothing nicer than driving home in a near-empty van, we think. The gardens there really are worth a visit and had been featured on BBC’s Gardeners’ World shortly before the day of the fair: good use is made of water in various ways, and there is some truly splendid topiary, all against the spectacular backdrop of the grand railway viaduct.
Into September and we were in Dorset once more, initially for the two days of the Dorset County Show and, a week later, for a Plant Heritage plant fair at Athelhampton House. What a contrast. The Dorset Show is a vast affair with tens of thousands of visitors passing through the hundreds of acres of showground, the fair at Athelhampton a gathering of a few nurseries on a lawn by the house with, perhaps, a couple of hundred people looking around. At which event did we do better? Let’s just say that we took more in one (much shorter) day on the lawn at Athelhampton than we did in both 8 to 6 days combined at Dorchester – and the profit after outgoings was much better, too. Much as we enjoy actually being at the wonderfully diverse and busy Dorset County Show, it’s not a very productive weekend for us, and we will probably be elsewhere next year in the first weekend in September. Athelhampton – it was our first visit there – is a lovely venue, and we will certainly return in 2015, perhaps in the spring as well as in the autumn. Any country house that has the gardener’s loo in a castellated turret has to be worth revisiting. See some photos here.
And that was that for 2014. We passed on the possibility of a final show on the third weekend of September, as we found ourselves struggling to find sufficient numbers of plants in flower or otherwise looking good enough to tempt the late-season customer. So now it’s batten down the hatches for the onset of another winter, get on with all the behind the scenes work that has to be done, and plan for 2015. Next year will, after all, be the best year ever. Don’t we always think that?
Rob & Joanna – October 2014