Twenty one years young.

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The annual Plant Fair on Sunday last was the big day for Sarah Jones the organiser, after all the months of effort – there was no dress rehearsal. The sun was up, the Scouts and volunteers were present all waiting for the influx of visitors. They were not to be disappointed, for all car parks were full to overflowing by eleven o’clock – that’s over six hundred cars parked up at any one time. The staff had done their bit along with the volunteers in setting up the event the previous day, shipping in stock from Janet’s depository – seven hundred and fifty plants on the move. The local Scouts provided the night-watch team and acted as wheel-barrow boys on the Sunday.
The event has a long history going back to 1997 when it was sponsored by the Daily Telegraph for a period of three years. When the promotion ceased the Friends of Ashridge organised and ran the event. The first organiser was John Powell, followed by Stewart Downhill, and for the last ten years John Cartwright, all of whom still raise and donate plants. The National Trust still run a number of successful plant fairs and Ashridge is certainly one of those. It was a fun time for the green-fingered visitors tempted by high quality plants on sale at bargain prices, all produced specially for the event. Unusual plants and implements were on sale at the trade stands.
Sarah was overwhelmingly happy with the outcome, and after the event had this to say.
“Just wanted to say wow and thank you!
A really big well done and thank you to everyone who has made this year’s Plant Fair such a success! Whether a grower or whether you helped on the day, it all came together very well, making for a really enjoyable event.
I am really proud of the efforts of everyone. The growers produced some really amazing plants and the volunteers on the day rose fantastically to the occasion, doing their different roles with enthusiasm, with even the weather coming good in the end! The Scouts unfortunately did suffer with the weather the night before but they bore it with good humour.
In terms of the figures, in total we raised just under £5,500 for the National Trust, with over 1,100 people recorded as visitors during the course of the day.
I will be back in touch in the Autumn regarding the Fair next year. In the meantime, if remodelling your garden or having a clear out, please bear in mind next year’s event! I would be delighted to pick up any plants or root stock not wanted over the summer period.
If anyone has any feedback on this year’s Fair, I would also be pleased to hear from you!
Thank you again and have a lovely summer.”
Householders are currently being inspired by the Chelsea Flower Show to go out into the garden where they can enjoy some “horticultural therapy”, with a growing number of GPs and healthcare professionals “prescribing” gardening to improve their patients’ health.
The rural setting of Ashridge is reminiscent of past annual fairs going way back to Tudor times, and earlier, when shops were non-existent – they were for the small rural craftsmen to sell their wares, along with the livestock and agricultural products. The seasons seemed to wait for the fairs “On Heffel Fair” the people of Sussex used to say ” the old women lets the cuckoo out”; Spring they meant came in with Heathfield Fair. “Greenhill”, immortalised by Thomas Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd was speaking of Woodberry Hill Fair near Bere Regis in Dorset, founded in 1216; where each day had it’s appointed business and lasted for seven days in September. The survival of fairs, both rural and urban, is as curious as their rise and fall, and cannot be explained simply by observing that man does not quickly discard the habits and customs of centuries. There is something it seems, in the very principle of the fair that society, for profit as well as pleasure, finds indispensable.

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