Winding down

And so, six months after it began in the icy March winds of Wiltshire, the roadshow season has wound its way to a balmy end in the sunbathed depths of Dorset. Seems only yesterday we were setting up in the courtyard at Marlborough College ….. well, no it doesn’t actually, being realistic about it, but nonetheless each season on the road does seem rather to speed by at an alarming rate, leaving us once again to contemplate the descent into winter and all the tidying up, ordering, booking and staring at a computer screen that that brings. The last leg of the 2015 tour saw us in three rather different settings.

NHMF Plant Fair at Longstock

The first of these brought us back to the lovely surroundings of Longstock on the Leckford Estate near Stockbridge on the occasion of the Autumn Plant Fair organised in support on the North Hampshire Medical Fund. Just as at the spring event held there, those attending are generally knowledgeable gardeners who know their species and subspecies and who – thankfully, given the time of year – don’t need a plant to be in full bloom to prove its worth. The fact that it was rather on the grey and cool side didn’t seem to discourage them too much, and our sales were brisk, especially before lunchtime.


Brisk is not the adjective we would choose to describe things the following weekend, when we went up to Andover for a third time this year for the Farmers & Craft Market by the Guildhall. Perhaps the public couldn’t find us in the grey mist that enveloped things until late morning, and when they did, they didn’t seem to be much in the mood for plant buying. Ah well, it was mid-September, and it is a fact that, despite early autumn being a great time for planting perennials and shrubs, most people prefer to wait until spring to do so.


And so to the curtain call for 2015, once again the Plant Heritage Dorset group plant fair held in the shadow of Athelhampton House, and in our particular case in the shadow of the grandiose stone dovecote, which provided an interesting background soundtrack to our day. The weather was perfect, a golden late September day of gentle sunshine, but for some reason the denizens of Dorset failed to arrive in the same numbers as last year, and, although we seemed to do rather better than some others, we sold little more than a third of what we did in 2014. Perhaps it was the date, two weeks later than last year, perhaps it was the effect of there having been a plant fair at Mapperton House, not a million miles away,  just a week previously: whatever the reason, it was a disappointment for the organisers after all their hard work and for the stall holders who had managed some pretty impressive displays despite it much harder to find things in bloom rather than in, say, June. But you have to take the rough with the smooth, as they say (rather smugly and annoyingly ….. ) and it would be pretty curmudgeonly to complain about spending a sunny Sunday in the picturesque grounds of a 15th century manor house.


So all that remained was to unload the van for a final time, and that was how Rob spent his Monday morning, returning plants to the growing area or using them to restock the sales and display area when he could. In all we have spent forty four days at some event or other in the course of the past six months. That’s six more days than in 2014, so it’s been a busy season. Whether it’s been a more profitable one remains to be seen: once Rob has completed his spreadsheet, all will be revealed. There were times that it all got a bit frantic, with one show merging seamlessly into the next, and potting on and other necessary ongoing jobs getting neglected, which has led us to wonder if it might be better to advertise a bit more and encourage more direct sales from the nursery rather than hare off at every opportunity to some far flung point in Dorset, Surrey, West Sussex or wherever. Perhaps we can ponder that in the coming dark winter months.

Rob & Joanna – September 2015


A summer come and gone

The last time we posted here May was just underway & we stood on the threshold of summer. It is now the best part of two weeks into September and that summer is pretty much on the way out, if the weather forecast for the coming days is to be believed. And those good intentions about posting on a weekly basis through those golden sunny days? Paving the road to you know where, as you might expect. So ….. a rushed recap of the past four months it is then.


May sees some of our biggest sales days: the St John Garden Fair and the Plant Heritage Fair in two consecutive flat-out days at the start of the month, and the Solent Gardeners’ Fayre right at the end (usually the first Sunday in June, but moved this year so as not to clash with the Garden Show at Stansted). A couple of other events turned out to be bigger than anticipated too. The WoW fair, held on a Thursday at Dummer Cricket Centre, was for once blessed with fine weather, and Rob had to cope on his own with queues of ladies lining up with armfuls of plants. Which was nice. Rather bitter sweet, as it turns out, as the charity has decided to discontinue the event. Which seems an odd decision, given that good weather saw a much improved turnout. Ho hum. Ours not to reason why, we suppose. The other surprise package was the Milford on Sea Gardeners’ Club event held on the village green on a Saturday morning in mid-May. Again Rob was operating in a solo capacity, as Deb decided that getting up at the unearthly hour required to get there and set up before parking regulations came into force was not on, given her work commitments during the week. It was queues and armfuls again, as it turned out, and Rob was happy, if exhausted, at the close of play. We had a new event in the two-day Plant Fair at Upton Country Park in Poole, held in the sub-tropical setting of the walled garden there. There was a feeling among the stallholders that it might have been better advertised: perhaps so, but we weren’t complaining about the brisk business we seemed to do.


Into June, traditionally another big month, but with some new events this year alongside old favourites such as the Unusual Plants Fair at Selborne, Fareham gardeners’ market and a Rare Plant Fair at Birtley House. The opening weekend was in fact a brand new event, Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire, a successor to his initial foray into event organisation in 2014 at Powderham Castle. We thought it was a splendid location and the show had the makings of a truly great event, as there was lots for visitors to see, do and buy. Some other exhibitors muttered in their beards that they hadn’t done that well, but we were pretty pleased, if a bit windswept in our particular location. Also in its first year was the Craft and Garden Fair at Breamore House in Dorset, held on the final weekend of the month. Again, a fabulous location, and we had a good weekend sales-wise.


The first weekend of July saw a weekend off the treadmill: hurrah! As ever,  plans to catch up on lots of fronts, e.g. potting on, came to naught, and all too soon we were back in the fray. Parham was a lovely affair as ever: who couldn’t be happy selling plants in such a location (visit the acres of walled gardens, and you will see what we mean). The other pillar of July is of course the Garden Show at Loseley Park, which sees us venture up into Surrey for three days. This year the weather was as mixed as it possibly could be. Friday and Sunday were basically horizontal rain, with the visitor numbers and sales statistics that you might expect given such conditions. The Saturday in between, however, was as gorgeous a summer day as you could wish for, and the throng of customers didn’t just linger over the plants, they bought them too. We did feel sorry for the seven coachloads of gardeners who came on the sodden Monday: they just picked the wrong day to book by 24 hours. We also returned to Andover for another of the series of Craft & Farmers’ markets (or, rather, Rob did). Which was fine, apart from a keen breeze blowing racks over during set up: not a great start to the day.


The start of August saw another new event for us in the two-day Poole Town and Country Fair, held at Upton Park, though not in the walled garden this time, but in the rather wider expanses of the park itself. It turned out to be a lovely family-oriented event, with lots going on. We had a monopoly of plant sales and consequently did quite well for the time of year: we were just glad that there was no other competition. The following Saturday saw the Ellingham Show: back in our now usual spot on the entrance and exit avenue, we were kept busy throughout the long day, and Rob was especially pleased to find a fresh fish stall that provided him with lobster and crab to take home. Heaven! Yet another new show followed: the South Downs Show in a fold of the (yes) downs in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield. Once again we were masters of all we surveyed and, if visitors wanted plants, we were the only source. So we did fine in the circumstances. Rob’s highpoint – literally – was the epic climb with Penny, Deb’s little Jack Russell, right to the top of the escarpment above the show venue to enjoy the far-reaching views to the coast.

ELLINGHAM_SHOW_Aug_15_3After another free weekend (well, we deserve it) the very last day of August (Bank Holiday Monday) brought us, or, rather, Rob once again bereft of support, to the Emsworth Show. Another new one on us, as it happens. It had been, shall we say, a damp weekend, and Noah, were he still with us, would have been preparing the ark and getting in the animal provisions. So Deb’s phone call at 6.30 am to announce her withdrawal from proceedings wasn’t entirely unexpected, and Rob was entertaining some serious doubts about the whole thing as he set off in sheets of rain en route to West Sussex. However, the further down the M27 he went, the less torrential the rain became, and setting up the pitch in light rain was about the worst of it in the end. Emsworth mustered enough hardy souls to make it all worthwhile, and the only real victim of the rain turned out to be the burger van which got stuck in the mud attempting the leave the field at the end of the day.

And so it is September, and we have just had a show-free weekend before embarking on a mad dash for the off season which starts in October. Perhaps with all the free time that beckons, more regular updates might be on the cards? The jury is still out on that one.

Rob & Joanna – September 2015