It was fun and games and dancing in the rain on Friday 27th April at Toby’s Garden Festival at Powderham Castle at Kenton near Exeter! Children from the local primary school cut the ribbon, ably assisted by Lord and Lady Devon, Toby and Radio Devon’s David Fitzgerald to welcome more than 5000 visitors onto a castle and grounds festooned with plants, herbs and climbers from more than 30 West Country nurseries and a further 170 local gardening, crafts and artisan food producers. Fitz and Toby broadcast live from the festival on BBC Radio Devon and recorded highlights from the popular Gardeners’ Q & A on both afternoons for Toby’s Sunday morning gardening phone-in.
The Speaker Marquee was filled to capacity as gardeners enjoyed expert talks from BBC Gardeners’ Question Time favourite Anne Swithinbank while the Lower Lawn was home to a huge Artisan Marquee and Tea Tent, where Glas-Denbury Music & Arts Festival provided the musical entertainment from local artists including The Liberty Sisters.
On Saturday the rain cleared and tonnes of straw laid overnight by organisers to soak up the mud gave the castle a distinctly medieval air. Radio 2’s allotment guru Terry Walton shared tips from his 50 years experience of growing veg the organic way and actor John Challis better known as Boycie from Only Fools & Horses, was a hit with selfie-taking visitors as he shared the trials and tribulations of creating a wild and romantic garden full of rambling roses and cottage garden plants at Wigmore Abbey on the Shrophire/Herefordshire border.
Willow artist Serena de la Hey launched her crowdfund campaign to save the M5 Willow Man, and revealed the Willow Wonder created especially for the festival – a 15ft willow head staring out serenely over the castle’s picturesque deer park and lake.
A Demo Tipi on the North lawn was a popular destination for a second programme of talks on grafting, sowing, cooking and fermenting. More than 90 VIP guests enjoyed fizz and fine food in the castle’s glorious library, overlooking the castle’s formal Rose Lawn. Further highlights included cooking demo’s from Hearth & Cook in and around the Tea Tent and Grazer’s Pest Clinic where gardeners could discover organic solutions to garden pests. The Higher Beings’ stilt-walkers who were almost as high the castle portico brought their Dreckly Dragon to entertain the children, there were paper-flowering making workshops from WildHive, ceilidh music from the flower-hatted Cataclews and Coastal Recycling’s giant shredder showing how they make 35,000 tonnes of compost from Devon’s recycle centres.
Toby says, “It was a festival of two halves with torrential rain one day and thankfully dry weather the next. UK nurseries have had a dreadful spring so it was brilliant to see thousands of gardeners turn out in force regardless, buying plants and supporting our local growers. The quality of our local producers is something I’m truly proud of and delighted to be able to showcase at Powderham. Now we’re looking forward to our next event at fabulous Forde Abbey in September!”
“My friends and I just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful VIP day. We all bought lots of plants and other goods. The food and drink were lovely and a great atmosphere.” Jane Frewing
Lovely atmosphere, great location, well organised. We always enjoy going to this festival, Toby is extremely friendly and welcoming, we love it! Richard Allen
My sister and I had a fabulous time on the Friday. Yes, it was wet and very muddy, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, buying some wonderful items for the garden and also delicious food products. The tea tent with live cookery demonstrations was brilliant. The cakes they served were so yummy and the hot cup of tea was very welcoming. Sue Tiffin
Love the local suppliers especially quality of the food. Also accessibility of the speakers. Fantastic. Sandra Pearson