The Garden Festival’s Creative Director Gabrielle Jackson takes a look back at the first five years…
Flags are fluttering, “Cataclews” in their flowery hats are playing jaunty music, the Castle courtyard is crowded with amazing plants, delicious scent of coffee in the air…Toby and I are nervously waiting by the Castle gatehouse.
It is 2 May 2014. The Castle clock chimes10am. Time to open the gates and let in the public for the very first ever Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival at Powderham Castle – will anyone come?
But many hundreds of people are cheerfully waiting outside the thick stone walls and pour in over the moat, under the gatehouse, laughing, smiling, greeting Toby, enthusiastic gardeners so looking forward to a plant lovers’ day out at beautiful Powderham Castle in Devon.
Well that was five years ago and very soon we will be celebrating our 5th Birthday, welcoming back many of those first visitors who come every year.
In a previous life I worked in television, mainly for the BBC on food programmes so swapping chefs for gardeners is a lovely change! I have even won a prize for baking “Britain’s Best Chocolate Cake” and my “Deeply Chocolatey Brownies” are baked for garden festival events.
It’s a lucky person to be working in an area of great personal interest. I don’t pretend to be an expert gardener but I do love plants, gardens and the creatures that inhabit them. My gardening ambitions are to have a big greenhouse in which to grow exotics and also one big enough for an old armchair, a Roberts radio and a haybox for my cat. A pomegranate orchard would be my ideal project but unlikely living on Dartmoor.
So now I have the lofty sounding title of “Creative Director” but what does that entail? Content really and ideas, finding content for the festivals which will interest, enthrall, inspire and inform our visitors. Gardening related talks and demonstrations on many aspects of horticultural life. We have always had the main Speakers Tent on the Rose Lawn where the serious gardening talks take place and over the years Toby has been joined by Anne Swithinbank, Jim Buttress, Christine Walkden, Jo Swift, Adam Frost, Bob Flowerdew, Charles Dowding, Pippa Greenwood and many fine nurserymen and women – and a man who grew his own beer on his allotment!
But we also ran a varied programme of talks in the Castle’s Victorian Kitchen, “Kitchen Cuttings”. That first year we had a talk “Waste not Weeds” about cooking those unwanted plants, “Learn to love your Rhubarb” and other quirky topics. Since then we have run talks on “Big Ideas for Small Berries”, “Growing Devon’s First Tea Plantation”, “Britain’s Secret Trees” and “Creating the Perfect Compost” amongst many other subjects. Last year we had our own Toby’s Garden Festival gin distilled which is still available to buy should you fancy some!
Gardening trends are something to be aware of. For example gardens designed to benefit the environment and encourage wildlife will be big in 2018 with native plants and locally sourced materials becoming increasingly popular. As interest in growing our own food continues apace will we see more edible planting and greenhouses making a comeback?
Toby, Lisa and Alan, publisher of “Country Gardener” magazine have all worked in this sector for many years but I have to read industry magazines, scan online gardening sites, attend other gardening events, talk to nurseries and yes, even pay close attention to gardening on Twitter.
Marketing the festivals, competition ideas, building relationships with local business community, finding new exhibitors, selecting food sellers, liaison with speakers and developing their talks, researching possible sponsors are all areas I contribute to. Last year I suggested we run an enhanced garden fest experience and Toby’s VIP Marquee was born. And in the run up to the festivals everything is on my agenda from filling jam jars with flowers, putting up bunting, constructing a chandelier of carrots, making flapjacks and sandwiches for the workers, decorating marquees… We are known as the friendly garden festival so all of us work hard to ensure that this continues to be so.
And on festival days I can generally be found compering in one of the demonstration areas ensuring our speakers know where they are going and when, that they have all necessary props and equipment and sometimes interviewing them too.
Now we are looking forward to April 2018 and our 5th Birthday Festival at Powderham. So what extra delights can you enjoy this year? Well, we have our brilliant speakers Rachel de Thame, Terry Walton, John Challis aka Boycie, Jim Buttress and of course Toby, and our big brown tipi is offering “Sow, Grow, Cook”. More than thirty nurseries are selling a huge range of best home grown plants, exhibitors offering garden accessories and gardenalia, SW artists and craftspeople make over 200 this year! Toby’s Tea Tent promises ultimate in home made cake and Devon cream teas plus all the wonderful food and drink producers, music and beautiful Powderham Castle. Great recipe for a gardener’s dreamy day out.
And when the sun shines on us all, when the park is full of cheerful gardeners wheeling great trolleys of plants, when exhibitors are happy with their sales, when rapt audiences fill the talks and demonstrations, then we too are happy and feel the job well done.