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A fantastic festival - gardens, the harvest & gin!

Updated: May 15, 2018

Here’s one for you! It’s about our day at Toby Buckland’s Garden and Harvest Festival, a few Sunday’s ago.

If you remember, we had a chat with the man himself before the event - and it’s no secret we’re massive fans of Forde Abbey - so we were pretty curious to see what a two-day garden fest with over 150 exhibitors and makers (plus tons of talks and workshops), would be like in the gorgeous grounds there. It was also our first festival that had anything to do with gardens, gardening or growing, so we had no real idea what to expect. 

Well, we’re happy to say it was awesome! :) The beautiful grounds were the perfect backdrop for all there was to see and do... 

From specialist nurseries, artisan crafts, local food, live music and family entertainment, to demo’s on how to grow-your-own fruit and veg, willow-weaving, botanical soap making, English flower farming and apple pressing… there was so much cool stuff, we wished we’d been around for both days to be honest!

Anyway, we took my parents and our two doggies with us and everyone loved it (although a massive improvement is needed when taking family selfies!! ;))…

As there was so much inspiring stuff, every one of the 4,000 visitors would’ve had their own journey around the festival but for us, these are the things we discovered that we flipping loved - and are still talking about a couple of weeks on:

Pressing those apples!

This was a huge highlight for us. We took our own apples to turn in to juice and after having a go at identifying each variety (with the expert help of the awesome Anthony Richards), we were let loose on the apple press itself. HELL YEAH!!

What a great piece of kit it is. It was originally built to use in local theatre performances (check out the common players), so it even has a secret trap door in the roof for actors to pop-up out of… now that’s cool! Anyway, from dropping the apples down the chute, to watching them make a very messy pulp and then pressing that pulp to within an inch of its life so that no drop of juice was wasted, it was brilliant fun...

... and pretty tasty!! We brought home four litres of gorgeous juice from half a bag of apples – result! ;) Anthony had some great stories to tell too and we could’ve talked to him for hours.  So, if you didn’t try it this year, bring your apples and get stuck right in next time!

The meadow maze

When we visited Forde Abbey back in March, Head Gardener Danny Burlingham showed us the spiral they were creating in The Park Garden - something a little bit special to mark the first Toby Garden Fest. Back then, it was spirals of earth and pretty complicated to plan out!

Fast forward several months and it's now blossomed in to a beautiful circular meadow, natural and free amongst the lovingly tended and meticulously manicured parts of the grounds.

We love the meadow maze and the quotes scattered amongst the wild flowers…

These speech bubbles were handmade by Tony Davis at My Visible Object and we had a good old chat to him too - another interesting guy with some colourful stories to tell. That’s what was great about the makers we spoke to actually. Everyone was so friendly and there was definitely a festival atmosphere wherever we went. Anyway, we need some of Tony's quotes in our garden for sure!

The meadow maze was also a great spot for a talk by Paul Jupp from Meadow in my garden about how to make your own meadow at home. We grassed over a little meadow area in our garden a while back, so Paul definitely inspired us to get our arses in gear and have another go at going wild!! ;)

All in all, the meadow maze was ‘mazing!! ;) Sorry (not sorry!!).

Demos and tips in a tipi! 

We do love a tipi and on the top lawn there was a tipi with a difference. It was home to some fab demos, all weekend.

We missed ‘booze from your garden’ which showed you how to ‘dig and swig’ your way through the season and explained the cider making process (sounded right up our street), but we did catch organic flower farmer Jan Billington from Maddocks Farm, chatting about what it takes to grow edible flowers – just beautiful! 

There were lots of other fab demos and tipi talks, as well as a stellar line up in the Great Hall too – a brilliant session by Toby on how to create a colourful Autumn garden, Ben Richards talked visitors through his one-man mission to grow his own beer and Christine Walkden shared her hints on what to grow veg wise over the winter. We’d have loved to have heard Alan Down too, as he explained how to make a bulb lasagne – intriguing doesn’t do that subject justice! ;)

Willow sculpting

Here’s a shout out to willow artist Stefan Jennings – an expert in creating willow sculptures and structures. Stefan demonstrated how to get the best out of willow, with talks and demos on the festival Sunday.

We got chatting and also discovered he’d made a cool collection of spoons, by hand.

His grandfather had made spoons too and before discovering that family link, Stefan had already made his own collection. Just goes to show that sometimes there’s an unspoken, instinctive connection between the generations that art and creativity brings to life.

Food glorious food - and a beaut of a bar!

OK, yep. We were never going to miss this bit out! There was a whole host of lovely artisan food at the fest, but what made us jump for joy was that most of our favourite things in the whole world (pretty much) were there… ice cream, pasties, jam and gin! ;) And not just any old ice cream, pasties, jam and gin, let me tell you!    

Ice cream came courtesy of Split Screen Ice Cream. These lovely people were at our wedding back in the day, in their very cool camper van, giving out amazing locally-made ice cream to our friends and family. We had no idea they’d be at Toby’s Garden Fest, so it was a brilliant surprise, ace to catch up with Dan The Man…

… and basically get more of his delicious ice cream in our faces! 

Mum made a dash for the posh pasties (sorry mum, but this picture had to go in - don't hate us) :)   

… and we made a beeline for Bumblees – the brilliant Francine and her selection of quality preserves, vinegars, dressings and sauces which, as she always says on Twitter, are “made by me not a factory”. We love that sentiment.  

The homemade produce definitely tastes as good as it looks. We came away with gin and tonic marmalade and could’ve probably bought one of everything, without trying too hard! We also tested Francine's amazing raspberry balsamic - the secret ingredient in an awesome mocktail, as we finished our day off in style with drinks in the stunning Botanical Bar and Cocktail Garden on the top lawn.

The Bar was created by award-winning designer Katherine Crouch and Fat Leaf designand with an array of beautiful plants, decking, seating and a fantastic view of the abbey, it was the perfect place to kick back and relax with a gin - or several (we didn''t just stick to mocktails!).

The gin was expertly selected by the brilliant guys at Fat Bear and because of them (damn them!! ;)) we discovered a new firm favourite.

Lilliput gin, is made just over the border in Dorset. Distilled with Rosemary, Basil, Thyme and Olives, it's absolutely gorgeous and sitting there with a glass in hand was a brilliant way to watch the crowds head out, as our Sunday came to a close.

All in all it was a fantastic fest – and we’ve only touched on a fraction of the awesome things that went on! It brought together tons of great gardening and harvest gifts, plants, speakers and demos in one stupidly beautiful place – and we’d do it all again in a heartbeat!

That’s our take on things anyway, but how’s Toby feeling now it’s all over? We caught up with him to find out:

“I feel inspired! Being with such an amazing collection of growers, makers and doers for two days was bound to rub off. I didn't get around all the events and demos but the ones I did, I loved. Seeing willow artist Stefan Jennings at work has given me an idea for a big build project for next year’s fest - and the scything demo with Chris Riley was so satisfying and surprisingly meditative and relaxing. The cake comp, fermented veg and Ollie Hutson’s talk on the home-grown veg ethos of the Pig Hotels has made me hungry for more. So, despite still having boxes of bunting everywhere and stuff to sort in every shed, my love of the harvest season has had the bellows blown through it - making it keener and brighter than ever. Roll on next year!”

Whoop! The fest will be back next year but as we’re saying goodbye to this one, we’re now left with the lasting image of Toby, tangled up in bunting, on the floor of one of his sheds!!

Never thought we’d be thinking about that when we got up today ;). 

Toby’s Garden Fest will return to Forde Abbey on September 15th and 16th, 2018. To keep up to date with all things Toby Garden Fest, follow the guys on Twitter and Instagram and watch our social feeds too. As soon as there’s any update, we'll be sure to let you know. We’re also a bit hooked on Bumblees produce, so we’ll be blogging about it in more detail in December. Next Spring, Split Screen Ice Cream will also be coming to the blog. Can’t wait to tell their very Somerset cool story too! 


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