I received an invitation the other day to go to the West Woodhay Gardeners’ Fair; a quick check on the map and I thought it would make a nice day trip. I happily said yes and waited for the weekend to arrive.
I have never been to West Woodhay before and I do not know that part of the country hugely well. It is around two hours from where I live and the journey (particularly once I was off the motorways) took me through some delightful countryside. In particular as I got closer to the fair I noted some impressive trees. I also noted the impressive signage to the fair. I have rarely seen such good clear signage that took me from when I left the main road straight to the fair. I give a big thumbs up to this.
The day when it arrived was warm but rather overcast. Actually in truth it was beautifully sunny at home but got cloudier the further south I drove. It tried to rain a couple of times during the day but nothing significant and it was not unpleasant. It has been a hot week so it made a nice relief.
The fair was thoughtfully laid out. Lots of space to stroll and enjoy and some really good stalls to peruse. We are talking a high standard of stall such as Hardys and Special Plants, a full list of exhibiters is here There were beautiful things to buy as well as plants.
There was also plenty of space to sit and eat, drink, buy Pimms and ice cream. I am going to give special mention to the food which was by Honesty Catering who are based at a nearby pub. The food was wonderful – thank you.
Seriously, everything you could want from a day out was here. Including the grounds and gardens of West Woodhay House itself which were worth seeing fair or no fair. Just let your eye follow the lines on the lawn that go up beyond the lake. The signage at the fair encourages you to explore the grounds and the gardens, which also also partially across the road from the house. The Walled Garden is must-see.
The scent from all the roses bombards you as you enter the gardens. The garden is made up of mainly narrow paths that open up to discoveries, like the matching dove-cotes atop their topiary mounds. Back into the main part of the Walled Garden and there are two matching incredible fruit cages set in a sea of roses. They are beautiful and functional and, well, just awesome. When I came out of the Walled Garden I felt like I had been on an Alice Through the Looking Glass journey, moving from space to space finding more wonders at each turn.
And of course a plant was purchased. Just the one you say? Yes just one, I was very tempted by many but this one was on my list as it is a Sparmannia africana. I first saw one of these when I visited Thenford earlier this year and I had been searching for one. I bought this from Hill House Nursery who are part of the founding force behind the Independent Plant Nurseries Guide who are worthy of a plug. This fair is all about independent plant nurseries and regular readers will know I am a huge fan of buying from independent nurseries. The plants are the best because they are grown with knowledge and love.
The other impressive thing about this fair is that all the profits are going to various benefiting charities who include the NGS.
I leave you with this thought, there is a plant fair whose name is still whispered in hallowed tones by those who visited and those who wished they had. All plant fairs since are measured consciously and unconsciously against this bright light that shone so brightly yet briefly. As I walked around this fair the name of that show whispered through the trees and I nodded in agreement. West Woodhay Gardeners’ Fair is something special. It has the capability to become something seriously seriously special and I will happily drive for two hours to visit again.
The West Woodhay Gardeners’ Fair in association with the National Garden Scheme on the 23-25th June near Newbury, Berkshire, has rapidly established a reputation as a mecca for plant enthusiasts. It is a winning combination of renowned nurseries in the setting of a 25 acre garden not regularly open to the public. ‘Such a fair in a really spectacular country house garden is in the great tradition of British plantsmanship. West Woodhay is an amazing garden’ says George Plumptre, Chief Executive of the National Garden Scheme.
‘It’s an exciting opportunity to discover a delicious little plant’ adding ‘many of the exhibitors are family run nurseries offering outstanding quality plants. It’s great for them as they are often based in the middle of nowhere with very little passing trade’.
Hardy’s Cottage Plants, Meadowgate Nursery, the Botanic Nursery and Marina Christopher’s, Phoenix Perennial Plants, are just a few of the nurseries taking part. In addition there are handsome garden pots, bespoke gates and hurdles by Dave Seaborne from Green Man Products , lovingly made tools by Garden and Wood and a host of other horticultural delights. I guarantee it will be hard to leave the fair empty handed.
Each year the fair attracts thousands of people and raises vast amounts for local charities. ‘Since the fair’s inception five years ago we have raised in excess of £270,000. ‘It is a real community event’ says Harry Henderson –‘the Newbury Rotary Club run the silent auction, the Fair Close Centre doing the teas, West Woodhay village are making the canapes for the gala evening, the boy scouts are doing the crèche and the Newbury Agricultural Society are running the school’s competition as well as making the signs. It is a veritable model of the ‘Big Society’.
The fair is organised by the same team behind the highly regarded Cottesbroke Gardeners Fair in Northamptonshire.
West Woodhay, designed by Inigo Jones in 1635 for Benjamin Rudyard, a poet and politician, has been owned by the Henderson family since 1920. The house has a remarkable view to the Downs, ‘the highest point between the Pennines and the South Coast’ says Harry proudly. Harry’s parents salvaged the garden after the war when the house had been occupied by the MOD. ‘Everything had gone’ says Harry, ‘Jim Russell, who started Sunningdale Nurseries, who planned the arboretum at Castle Howard was a friend of my father’s and advised them. He suggested opening up the vista to the Downs to link the house with the view leaving a few judiciously placed round clumps of trees. Near the house we have kept the garden relatively formal with good structure, straight edges, and beautifully mown lawns so as not to detract from the view’. There are herbaceous borders in the walled garden. ‘My mother was a good gardener. She had an excellent eye for colour combinations’.
In recent years, Harry, a keen gardener and his wife have made several additions to the garden increasing it adding new lakes and creating out of a bog a very imaginative Jubilee garden celebrating his 60th birthday with six Portland stones in a circle and five rings of trees representing the Olympic Games. All the trees are either cut leaf or weeping including sorbus, oaks and beeches. ‘We are lucky as we have fingers of acid soil that come onto chalk so can grow anything we want’.
The fair is a thrilling chance to see an outstanding garden and buy fine plants. Do go along. Pre-order tickets using the code: AdM08 will entitle you to a ticket price of £8. On the day tickets purchased on the gate will cost £12.
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