Helmingham Hall – Plant Heritage Spring Plant Fair

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Things to do


Date of travel

May, 2016

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Out of the blue – literally – clouds rolled up yesterday and deluged mid-Suffolk. One of the ancient oaks at Helmingham was struck by lightning and blazed through the night. Hardly auspicious for a public event carefully watched over by security services following the Manchester atrocity. By morning, however, it was a spring day as at the beginning of the world.

As volunteers to meet and greet we were advised to arrive more than usually early, and did so. No evidence of security measures meant we were free to spend an hour with the stall holders, as long as we didn’t get in their way, and buying plants from them has never been in their way. With a work-shift from 10 am to 11.30 we were grateful for the plant creche, and only too happy to start off the voluntary collection for the benefit of Suffolk Plant Heritage. A tall fern, several slender grasses, an astrantia and some creeping thyme quickly joined the free fuchsia, to which were added later half a dozen herbs.

Meeting and greeting gives an opportunity for making concrete music – if only we had a recording machine. How many different ways can you say “Welcome, here’s a plan of the site and there’s a free fuchsia for you in the Plant Heritage marquee”? After several versions it seemed worthwhile to think how they could all be overlaid in an electronic composition played at different speeds both backwards and forwards. We must ask a musician friend’s student son to work on the idea.

Apart from stuffing adverts for the autumn fair into the site plan, directing people to the portaloos and/or food, plus telling parents there were activities for children, we also had a chance to assess the various ages of the visitors. Silver travellers were in plentiful supply, sometimes it seemed as grandchild wardens. It was also good to see how many young couples attend. Gardening is a thriving activity and interest has in no way been diminished by the concentration of programmes on the Chelsea Flower Show.

It is of course a more leisurely way of seeing some Chelsea medallists, as well as hear a talk by Lady Tollemache, a gold medallist herself and recipient of a recent award for work in the historic gardens at Helmingham. She is now delighted to be able to spend her days in the gardens then go home to a modern house in the village, leaving the Hall and its splendours – plus problems – to the next generation. She was the first speaker of the day and was followed by a number of other experts.

The fair also encompasses crafts and antiques or byegones. There is a portable dance floor for those who have the energy; the Colchester brass band was due to perform for a sedentary audience and there were a treasure hunt and craft activities for children. Access to the gardens was within the cost of the fair. What more could be desired?


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