29 January 1999

Fairs plant the seeds of friendship

TRAVELLING to garden fairs and shows selling our plants directly to the public is both enjoyable and satisfying and you soon forget all the hard work which has gone into the preparations.

We meet many lovely people, both fellow stallholders and customers, but the most annoying visitors to our stands are those who keep telling their companions: "Dont buy that, you can have a cutting from my garden." I wonder how many actually remember when they get home? I have seen the disappointment on peoples faces when they arent "allowed" to buy a plant they really want to take home.

We have many kind comments from customers on the quality of our plants and some unwittingly do our selling for us by singing the praises of a particular favourite so all around can hear. It is amazing how many we sell after one of these eulogies.

We grow many varieties of ornamental grasses and it is amusing how people cant resist "stroking" our plants. I particularly enjoy it when children are interested and love to watch their faces as they choose a plant either for Mummy or their own garden. My son started his love of plants at an early age; it stays with them for life.

Our prices are very reasonable so we rarely have any hagglers but recently we had some ornamental trees priced at £15. A very smart lady came up to me and said: "Excuse me, but I wondered if you would take £12? I dont normally do this but it is for my daughter and she really wants one."

We can have a dozen identical plants but there is always someone who will compare each one meticulously, looking into each pot and changing their minds continually – you wonder what they are looking for. One regular customer is so finicky that when I see him coming I just let him get on with his choosing and carry on serving other customers because I know he wont be ready for ages.

Some shows are themed and the stallholders have to dress accordingly. For example my husband dressed as a monk for a medieval fair and I was a serving wench.

Some shows have evening entertainment such as fairgrounds and firework displays. One such display was larger than planned when one of the marquees caught fire – fortunately no one was inside by some trade stands were a little wet from the fire crews hose.

We offer a buy now, collect later system which works well but it is amazing how many people forget to collect their plants, despite having paid for them.

We have to keep a watchful eye on TV gardening programmes because they influence the public. The name, Alan Titchmarsh, crop up in many conversations around our stand.

Having been made redundant from farm managing we find this a satisfying way of earning a living and we get to visit some beautiful parts of the country.

Margaret Cleveland