IT may be called Holker Garden Festival, but the 23rd annual “celebration of rural life” in the rolling grounds of the Cavendish estate is about a lot more than plants.
Assorted dogs, food, beer, jazz and giant psychic leeks also play an important role in proceedings and for many of the Holker faithful, this is just as vital a part of its appeal.
Festival organiser Lucy Cavendish, daughter of Lord and Lady Cavendish (all pictured above), said: “At its heart, it’s horticultural, but over the years we have expanded the other elements like food and crafts and it is now a celebration of rural life and it is at the heart of the local community.”
Although rain often threatened, crowds of waterproof and welly-clad visitors still thronged into the festival, attracted by a spectrum of flowers, the scent of sizzling local food and the sounds of the Ulverston Victoria High School Swing Band.
Miss Cavendish said the festival expected to attract up to 20,000 visitors, injecting a six-figure sum into the local economy.
She said: “There are a lot of loyal visitors who come back year after year and each year we get together and plan how we can make it even better.”
As well as being a chance for people to browse and buy local goods of all kinds, the festival is also a battleground of floral warfare as gardeners, flower arrangers and other competitors vie for the various awards on offer.
The winner of this year’s Best Festival Garden award and also a Large Gold award was John Roberts, director of Sharp Paving, based in Burneside, Kendal.
His combination of a paved garden and rockery had been designed as an inspiring area for artists, complete with an easel, paint brushes and a palette.
Mr Roberts said: “I have been coming here for 12 years and I have won best in show six times and had 11 large golds. I love coming here but the most important thing and what makes it are the people who come to visit.”
As well as thronging with human visitors, Holker Garden Festival is also something of a festival of dogs, with mongrels and pedigrees snarling, snapping, wagging and stealing scraps off the floor at every turn.
Emma Curtis, from Lowick, had come along with a large collection of canines, which were eagerly trying to entangle each other – and passers by – in their leads. She said: “I have been coming here since I was 15. It’s a lovely atmosphere here, just a nice day out. I can get a lot of plants for my garden because I try to be a keen gardener.”
Also among the awards was Abi and Tom’s Garden Plants, of Witherslack, which won the Best in Show award for a display over 15 feet, as well as the Lucy Cavendish Award and a Large Gold award.
Tom Attwood who runs the business with wife Abi, said: “For us it is a very big local show because we are only 20 minutes away. It is good fun for us and a lot of our regular customers come here because it has become a bit of a pilgrimage.”
Nearby, street performers Karen Bell and Dafe Bullock were putting their art into action as the giant leek Leia Skywalker and “celebrity gardener” Hugo Bushey Babcock.
Leia’s party trick consisted of using her supposed psychic powers to guess which cards children had picked from a pack daubed with pictures of vegetables.
Elsewhere the focus was on food rather than flowers.
In the Made in Cumbria tent, demo chef Gary McClure was getting ready for a day of cooking demonstrations. He said: “We are trying to create an atmosphere which shows Cumbria off as a place full of fantastic products.
“The response over the years has been absolutely fantastic, with more and more traders coming. We have 250 traders here this year from all parts of Cumbria. I think people are becoming more and more aware of the artisan foods that are out there.”
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