The Plant Hunters’ Fair at Hoghton Tower

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.

A lady with a bag of plants seen through pink blossoms
Shoppers framed by blossom on one of the plants for sale

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.

A white shed with black patterns painted on it
Even the wooden shed has a Tudor feel

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.

A small, spiny cactus with pink flowers
Neoporteria cactus in flower on the society’s display

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.

Yellow and cream daffodils in Houghton Tower's garden
Daffodil season will be followed by bluebells in the surrounding woods

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.

A traditional entrance, with mullioned windows beside a black wooden door
Circular steps lead up to a traditional, arched door

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.

Succulents growing on top of an old wall plaque
An accidental(?) planter, dating from 1887

29 Replies to “The Plant Hunters’ Fair at Hoghton Tower”

  1. One half of me wishes I could have been there while the other half breathes a sigh of relief that I wasn’t there and so saved a lot of money. I can never leave a plant fair without a fair selection of what is on offer for the reasons you give above, especially the one about them growing for love rather than money. I always buy too much and then struggle to find room for them in my small plot, ending up with more pots which in turn give me more problems when it comes to a dry summer and constant watering. No easy route to a nice garden, is there?

    1. Ha! That is it exactly! I am safe on another continent! I really do not mind paying for plants that I really want (because I rarely do it) but there is so much out there already. I do not want to pay for something that will be neglected.

  2. What fun, what beauty! As you know, I hate spiders, but I love the photo with the web over the keyhole. “Echoes and ripples” of nine hundred years, indeed. And I also loved the reflection of the window in the window — what an image! I struggle to find a word for that blue door — slatey? So imposing, especially at the top of those layer-cake steps. I must agree with Old Herbaceous, though, that the photo with the daffodils might be the most impressive. And, yes, I planted pansies yesterday! It felt wonderful to see my fingernails all black and icky again!

    1. I’m glad to hear you’ve been mud wrestling – gardener style, of course. Layer-cake steps is a great way of putting it.

  3. Oh my. While I’m in FL I very seldom get the urge to buy plants. But I’m heading for Michigan soon and will be just in time to visit some places that sell nice and interesting plants. My problem has become that I need to be moving to really low maintenance plants that don’t require a a lot of deadheading and dividing. I tell myself that but then go with my heart. Sometimes I enjoy them for a few years and then replace them with something easier. What fun it all is.

    1. I can imagine having Naples Botanical Garden nearby will more than satisfy any plant yearnings. Plants that really like our conditions can cause as much grief as those that fade away after their first year (and I agree that it is enough to enjoy the latter while they last). I have one plant I would like to split, but it would be as easy to split a rock. It’s a hardy geranium, which you’d think would be easy.

      1. That is strange. One of the plants that I haven’t tried to get rid of is a geranium that is almost invasive but I can tame it easily.

        1. It could be done, of course, I just haven’t really determined my mind to do it. You think about splitting plants and teasing roots apart as a reflective pastime, but I’d need a very sharp axe and a grim mindset for this one.

  4. A plant fair sounds like a very desirable outing. Such events are few and far between here, and usually to be found in capital cities, necessitating long journeys. Of course it’s possible to purchase unusual plants from nurseries online, but as you point out, there’s no possibility of examination to find the best specimen, and then there’s P&P on top. And what better than to be surrounded by such beauty as you shop and chat to like minded folk?

    1. It is fun for a gardener. Even if you don’t find anything, you have the pleasure of thinking you will. It’s like buying a lottery ticket and being able to rummage through the tickets until you find a winner.

  5. Sounds like a fa.bulous day out! I would not be able to resist buying even more plants (and I am already feeling guilty about all the ones I have already purchased) but I do know the ‘refrainer’s remorse’ having not bought several items over the years and then wishing that I had…
    Lovely photos Susan.

    1. Feeling guilty about plants you have bought is a waste of good guilt. Once you’ve got them, there’s no help but to love them. I’d forgotten about the polemonium and now you’ve reminded me again…

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