The sun came out and more than 6000 gardeners flooded through the gates of Powderham Castle in Kenton near Exeter on the first Spring Bank Holiday weekend for broadcaster Toby Buckland’s sixth Garden Festival.
Visitors came from as far away as Australia to watch The Earl and Countess of Devon cut the ribbon assisted by Toby and BBC Gardeners’ World designer Joe Swift.
Toby says, “The festival is such a celebration of spring, a season we do so well here in the West Country. What makes the event so special, isn’t just the flowers, artisan food and wonderful craft on display, it’s the setting – the buttercups in the water meadows, the lake with its nesting swans and herons and the majestic oaks dressed with festive bunting.”
This year saw a brand-new layout which was mostly paved underfoot to the front of the castle, a new Artisan Barn showcasing local arts and crafts, and it was dog-friendly for the first time. The Exmouth Land Train was on hand to ferry revellers up and down the castle driveway and into the ancient courtyard filled with palms, scented Whetman pinks, and a vintage caravan offering delicious Devon cakes and teas. VIP guests were treated to a delicious lunch in the castle’s stunning music room and libraries, courtesy of sponsor Hawksmoor Investment Management.
Visitors were treated to free talks in Powderham’s magnificent wooden-panelled Dining Hall from actor John Challis aka Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, no-dig gardener Steph Hafferty, Dr Ian Bedford, the UK’s leading bug expert, floristry from The British Academy of Floral Art and a Q & A session recorded for Toby’s BBC Radio Devon Sunday morning garden show. Talks for Joe Swift and ITV’s Love your Garden presenter Frances Tophill were held outside in the sunshine in the natural amphitheatre of the Rose Garden, with a castle wall of wisteria as a backdrop filling the air with its sweet fragrance.
Uniquely for an event in Devon the festival celebrates a diverse range of talents, from the Oarsome Foursome – the first women team aiming to row the Atlantic – who brought their ocean-going rowing boat; The Devon Distillery with their Devon grappa and Lemoncello; West Country music couresty of Cornish ceilidh band The Cataclews, Mama Pik’s folk musicians and Sunny Side Up band who created a pop-up ukulele band with help from the visitors themselves.
Twelve specialist nurseries hosted talks on a range of gardening topics in the new Country Gardener Talks Tent by the lake, covering organic growing, roses, clematis, chilli plants, coastal plants, orchids and growing wildflower meadows from seed.
All the old favourites were back too including a Gardener’s Clinic sponsored by eco-deterrent manufacturer Grazers; a tree tour from Thornhayes Nursery Kevin Croucher and the Higher Beings, who amused visitors by dressing up as topiary that unexpectedly sprang to life.
Toby’s Garden Festival returns in 2020 on the first spring bank holiday of May.