The sun had got his hat on most obligingly yesterday, as Hoghton Tower was hosting a plant fair. I arrived shortly after 10.30 to find the place bustling. Parking was free and the entry fee (£1 per person) allowed admittance to the fortified manor’s walled garden. There were plant staples, novelties, rarities and bargains on offer and a line of early bird gardeners had formed in front of the plant stands, hoping to catch a worm or two. I did not judge this was a good point to start taking pictures, so the ones I have are from later on when everything was more sparse. Come between Lancastrians and their plants at your peril!
In any case, I was hunting for something too – a plant I could have bought by mail order or at many garden centres, but wanted to find here. I was not disappointed.
Why did I want to buy it here? To state the obvious, you don’t pay P&P at a plant fair. Plants are priced to sell, you can check their quality and size, get expert advice across the plant bench, and bask in the feelgood factor of directly supporting an independent, specialist nursery that grows more for love than money.
People who work at garden centres love their plants too, but at a Plant Hunters’ Fair, you’ll find a different range of plants to that stocked by your average garden centre which probably buys from the same plant list as every other one. In their defence, we (in general) buy what we’ve heard of, and potted plants that do not sell are a liability.
At a plant fair the exhibitors can feel confident they’ll be reaching out to a rarer prospect, one more likely to know its phaeums from its renardiis. The ones more likely to be aware that Geranium nodosum ‘Whiteleaf’ was named not for its leaf, but for a house, so not as likely to be surprised when their plant has green leaves. Those susceptible, and looking for a plant for dry shade, will find it enchanting enough that the modest woodland-style G. ‘Whiteleaf’ flowers have paler petal rims in contrast to their veined, pinky purple centres.
If I’d had a purse springing with fivers begging to be bounced in the direction of sellers (those who have handled plastic money will know what I mean), what else would I have bought? Several caught my eye including a polemonium with a very nice variegation, Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’, at its sweetest stage, early in the season when the cream and green foliage is most flushed with pink. That’s causing me a bedfellow of buyer’s remorse this morning – refrainer’s remorse, perhaps we should call it? Funny how we do not have a word for that. I still suffer it over a craftsman-made teapot I did not buy decades ago and, fresh from reading Hamlet, am aware that refrainer’s remorse comes in more than one flavour.
You’d have found your own treasures if you’d have been there, and, no doubt, different to mine. There is always a chance to meet lovely people at anything plant-related too. A gentleman manning The Lancashire Wildlife Trust stand explained how members are maintaining 38 nature reserves in ancient woodlands, marshes, meadows, mossland and former quarries throughout our beautiful county.
A couple from the Manchester branch of the British Cactus and Succulent Society had a small display stand brimming with treasures, including this flowering Neoporteria.
I teased them for loving anorak plants, then sheepishly admitted I have fallen for them too after once attending their society meeting. Once! There ought to be a warning at the door or a waiver to sign absolving them of responsibility when caring for small spiny or fleshy things turns out to be addictive. If I’d have known, I would never have let the first ones (door prizes) in. The couple took my teasing in good spirit and were so sweet, I half made up my mind to go to another meeting… a very slippery slope beckons.
If you get a chance to visit a plant fair, please go. They range in size from small to large, but the well-structured Plant Hunters’ Fairs website gives a good feel for the nurseries attending. The fairs are held in interesting places, often giving access to the grounds for a discounted fee.
I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of Hoghton Tower, so you can enjoy some of the sights I got in return for my £1.
Research this place lightly and you’ll hear rumours of a ghost, tales of royalty and hints that a young William Shakespeare may have spent time here.
Sensitive visitors will find it easy to tap into the echoes and ripples nine hundred years of history lends the place.
I hope the weather is fine for you and that you’re buying plants, planting them or at least dreaming about plants this Sunday.