Full circle: to Dorset and back again

Well, it is now the end of September, it’s raining, the leaves are beginning to fall from the ash trees, thanks to a stiff autumnal breeze, and yet it seems but a few weeks ago that we were embarking on a new season of plant fairs and other assorted events. Time then, remarkable though that thought may be, to look back on our six months on the road in 2019.

Plant Heritage Dorset fair at Athelhampton September 1st

Plant Heritage Dorset fair at Athelhampton September 1st

Six months, but a mere 19 days this time around (to put that in perspective, back in 2015 we set up stall on 42 different occasions). It was intended to be 21, but forecasts of extreme weather caused the cancellation of the Ellingham Show in August, and an accumulation of pressures forced us to bail out of the final day of the 3-day Garden Show at Loseley at the end of July. Looking back, we wonder how we managed to fit in so many show dates back in the day! We suppose it just goes to show how the balance has shifted between the various strands of our business, with online and direct sales now making up higher proportions of our income.

That said, it’s hard to beat a busy day at a successful show, especially when the surroundings (and sometimes the weather!) are as beautiful as they often are, and the feeling of bowling home with a virtually empty van is a good one. The number one show this year was, it has to be said, a bit of a surprise as, after a few recent years of steadily declining business, the Bishop’s Waltham Garden Fair, held on the first Sunday in May at Wintershill House, roared back into life and eclipsed just about every other event we attended, with only the Solent Gardeners’ Fayre (which has held the number one slot since as far back as we can remember) coming anywhere close.

The gardens at Chenies Manor July 14th

The gardens at Chenies Manor July 14th

Propping up the bottom of the table was the plant fair held in April to fundraise for the Avebury sports pavilion: this was a one-off event in the April slot usually filled by the RDA fair (on a hiatus in 2019) and was a bit of a missed opportunity. Held next to the car park for the Avebury historical site, hundreds of visitors walked past the entrance to the sports ground, but few entered, put off, we guess, by the rather hefty price tag of an entrance ticket. Also a new event for us this year, the Andover Gardening Fair at the end of June was, however, a much more successful affair: we enjoyed being back in the attractive surroundings of the High Street after a break of a couple of years, and plenty of eager plant buyers seemed keen to join us there.

We have remarked before on the volatility of sales performance from year to year, which evades any kind of explanation. After selling half the number of plants in 2018 at the Rowdeford Fair as compared with 2017, this year things bounced right back up again. Why? Same weather conditions, seemingly a similar turnout, so no coherent explanation. The same thing goes for the autumn fair at Mapperton, where, on as sunny a September day as in 2018, we only did two thirds of the business we did then. But no point trying to work out why, we shall just satisfy ourselves with the usual cliches about swings and roundabouts.

Plants in biodegradable Vipots at Mapperton April 14th

Plants in biodegradable Vipots at Mapperton April 14th

In keeping with current concerns about single-use plastic, we experimented this season with a couple of alternatives to the traditional black plastic pot. One involved transferring plants before a show into biodegradable Vipots, which are made of waste rice hulls sealed with vegetable oil: these are reusable but ultimately compostable once broken up into pieces. Like many eco-friendly items, they are pricy at around four times the cost of black plastic pots. Hmm. Another thing we tried was transferring plants from their plastic pots into cardboard POSIpots at the moment of sale: this trial took place at our final show of 2019 at Mapperton and has encouraged us to pursue this possible solution further at the start of next season.

So, as hinted at in the title of this post, we started out in 2019 with two events in Dorset and we finished off, six months later, with two more in the same beautiful county. The circle is complete, but we already planning our show schedule for 2020: no doubt, before we know it, we will be back on the road again …..

Rob & Joanna