Pumpkins and dahlias stole the show at Toby’s Harvest Festival, two flower-filled days of plant shopping, cooking and craft demo’s at Somerset’s stunning Forde Abbey. Visitors travelled from as far as Norfolk and North Wales to revel in the harvest hygge, which included celebrity talks from Guardian writer Alys Fowler who filled Forde’s Great Hall with visitors eager to learn the art of fermenting vegetables and Matt Biggs who spoke about his travels, tracing the footsteps of the great plant hunters for his latest book, The Secrets of the Great Botanists. John Challis delighted the audience with tales of ‘Being Boycie’ and how he and his wife Carol took on an old delapidated abbey and transformed it into a romantic home and garden full of wild flowers, roses and climbers.
Nearby on the Lower Lawn, dozens of award-winning nurseries carpeted the sward with colour, in the shape of mahogany helenium, Japanese windflowers and dahlia, including a magnificent display of all shapes and sizes, including collarette, cactus, balls and mignon in a rainbow of lollipop shades.
The East Lawn hosted the Artisan Marquee where local makers offered wreath-making kits, plant-dyed yarns, hand-made silk flowers, jewellery and unusual air plants which grow without soil and make fabulous ‘kokedama’ – hanging house plants that need little looking after.
Other highlights included the Tree Listener, Alex Metcalf who, using sensitive recording equipment, recorded the inner workings of the giant cedar on Forde’s Top Lawn so festival visitors could hear the rumbling of the tree’s imperceptible movement and the flow of water up tiny xylem tubes just beneath the bark.
Family entertainment came from the Skinny Jean Gardener Lee Connelly of Blue Peter fame who had children rapt with his simple and delightful style of explaining seed sowing and how things grow, plus nearby circus skills from The Higher Beings, who taught children to walk the tightrope, juggle and stilt-walk.
Festival host, Toby Buckland said, “The range of things to do, taste, see and learn was second to none. I loved hearing Alys and Matt sharing their personal gardening philosophies and I’ve never been to a festival where I’ve bought so many beautiful plants!”
Toby’s next festival will be in spring 2019 at Powderham Castle, his sixth event at the Earl of Devon’s home near Exeter.