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Toby’s Garden Festival

PUBLISHED: 12:06 07 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:07 07 March 2016

Christine Walkden and Toby Buckland

Christine Walkden and Toby Buckland

Matt Austin Images 2013

Christine Walkden is looking forward to joining Toby Buckland again at his annual garden festival, writes Catherine Courtenay

Toby at the festival last year with Rob Hardy of Hardy's Cottage Garden PlantsToby at the festival last year with Rob Hardy of Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants

Just five minutes in the company of this effervescent but straight-talking gardening guru is guaranteed to get even the most reluctant grower heading for the nearest patch of soil.

Christine Walkden is in full flow. Chatting about her return visit to Devon as one of the guest speakers at Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival, her enthusiasm, and frustration, is infectious.

“There’s only one reason why people don’t bother and it’s called laziness,” she chastises, instantly sweeping a host of excuses for not gardening to the back of the metaphorical shed.

“Everyone’s got room to grow something!” she cries. “A pot! A drainpipe! And it doesn’t bother me if you’re passionate about one flippin’ dandelion or a 1,000 acre plot!”

Plants galore at historic Powderham CastlePlants galore at historic Powderham Castle

With fighting talk like this, is it any wonder that halls across the country are packed to the rafters when she gives a talk? Yet, for someone whose passion for plants has seen her on TV, radio, in bookshops and leading tours across the globe, she’s remarkably self effacing and down to earth.

An approach which may also explain why she loves Toby’s festival so much.

“It has such a great village fete feel to it. It’s in a lovely setting, has a friendly, warm atmosphere and it’s so relaxed and enjoyable.”

She was genuinely touched during her previous visit. “People were coming up afterwards and saying it was fabulous to see me there and how I’d come all that way to Devon.” Then she adds, laughing: “But Devon is not Outer Mongolia - you have got roads down here!”

Toby Buckland's garden festival Toby Buckland's garden festival

Devon may not be so far away, but its wealth of garden nurseries is a bit of a hidden secret, and it’s one that inspired Toby. “Devon is so rich horticulturally,” he says. “But it is quiet about what it’s good at. I thought: ‘This is my industry, I’m a spokesperson for gardening and gardens alike and we do have a lot to celebrate’.” So he launched the Toby Buckland Garden Festival to showcase what Devon and the wider South West has to offer.

Three years later and it’s become a major event, combining Toby’s self confessed love of music, good food and company, along with more than 150 stalls, speakers like Christine bringing “expertise and fun”, all topped with a dose of Chelsea glamour supplied by some of the South West’s star exhibitors at the famous flower show.Christine’s talk will be about the “nitty gritty” of gardening, all those helpful little tips you wish you’d been told years ago like, “why it’s better to weed between rows than between plants”; and how to store seeds, “why we stuff them where we shouldn’t at the back of the shed”. “All those little things we do that don’t maximise productivity,” she summarises.

Sound horticultural advice, and from someone who seems to love teaching as much as her own gardening. “Gardening is about cultivation, not just of plants but people, too,” she reflects. “You need exactly the same skills to grow plants as to grow people - and all it is is TLC.”

Christine’s insight stems from a lifetime of growing plants - she had her first allotment at the age of 10 and reached the heady heights of horticultural society secretary at 13. She recalls sowing her first packet of seeds, “taking a speck of dust, putting it in the ground, growing it and then it going back to that speck of dust”, as if it was yesterday. And the memory has the just the same emotional effect now as it did then. It explains why, when teaching, she takes huge delight in seeing the effect of growing plants on her students.

“Don’t worry about designing,” she says. “Just get out there and plant something.”

And her own garden? “I’m very cottage gardeney,” she says. “But very bitty. I like so many things, so in terms of garden design - it’s a disaster! But I don’t care what people think, because it’s ‘my’ garden.”

Is this what Toby calls it “giving heart” to your garden? “It’s not how well designed it is, or about using expensive materials. It’s all about the heart. Whatever has meaning to you - bring it in.” So, he says, whether it’s a tree given by a relative as a present, or a plant picked up on a memorable day trip, put them your garden and enjoy the memories.

“And when people start growing things, and you see the joy, then you know you’ve got them,” says Christine. w

Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival takes place at Powderham Castle on Friday, 29 April and Saturday 30 April 2016. Find out more at tobygardenfest.co.uk

In the Speakers’ Tent

Toby Buckland, Festival MC, will be discussing ‘Big Ideas for Small Spaces’, a theme at this year’s festival - showing and empowering gardeners to make the most of their plots whatever the size. Joe Swift takes up the theme with his discussions on design and planning and Jim Buttress, raconteur, RHS judge and winner of the Queen Victoria Medal, ex-Superintendent of the Royal Parks, keeps all laughing with stories of his gardening exploits. The popular Q&A’s are back, packed with useful information and added hilarity, not to be missed, plus many talks from lesser famed but highly knowledgeable gardening aficionados.

The main speakers’ tent is supplemented by ‘Kitchen Cuttings’ talks held in the Victorian Kitchen in the heart of the castle - gripping slots filled with gardening ephemera from a talk on Devon’s first tea plantation to taking advantage of global warming by planting an olive grove, or creating your own urban jungle.

The un-paralleled choice of hand-picked specialist nurseries at the festival, means you can get instant answers to your garden questions direct from the people who have spent a lifetime devoting themselves to raising plants. Come and meet them in a party atmosphere with live music, children’s activities, local craft, food and drink.

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