Toby Buckland Launches New Garden Festival

By Su Carroll, Western Morning News, 25 April 2014

Tim Penrose
Tim Penrose of Bowden Hostas Picture by GRW Photography

Toby Buckland has the love of gardening in his blood. He grew up in Dawlish – where he still lives with his wife, Lisa, and three children – and caught the gardening bug from his Uncle Bob, a keen amateur gardener.

Toby started out as a rose and pinks nurseryman and gardener and if his face is familiar, it’s through his work as a presenter on Gardeners’ World and as an writer.

In the spring of 2012, Toby opened his own garden centre at Powderham Castle near Exeter. The business has blossomed and Toby, always keen to communicate his passion for plants, is holding a garden festival at the castle next weekend.

“The great thing about the show is that there is often a distance between the suppliers and the audience,” says Toby. “Here it is much more intimate. It’s satisfying to be able to pass on gardening tips and knowledge.”

The festival offers displays of extraordinary, unusual and beautiful plants with over 100 exhibitors on the Castle estate, children’s gardening activities, food and craft stalls and live music.

“It’s a friendly festival. Gardeners are a friendly bunch. They like to get together and swap information.

“I love having the nursery. I just love growing plants, but gardening is not simply just about plants. It’s about people and plants.

“One of the things the Westcountry doesn’t necessarily shout a lot about is the gardening industry we have – the number of gardeners we have here who are experts. We will have a lot of people here who exhibit at other shows. It makes you proud to be from this part of the world.

“This is the kind of show that has been waiting to happen for years.”

Anne Swithinbank of Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time says she’s really looking forward to taking part in the garden festival.

“It’s been a long time since there’s been anything like this,” she says.

This festival is as much about the people as it is plants.

Over the two days there will be 14 informal talks in Powderham’s Victorian kitchen, called Kitchen Cuttings, where some of the Westcountry’s experts will share their knowledge.

“I’ll be talking about my favourite plants,” says Anne who lives in East Devon. “Plants that become favourites because they mean something to you. Or are favourites because they are fascinating in a botanical sense, wonderful and amazing with a lot of colour and scent.”

Toby’s friends in the gardening world will be joining him for this inaugural event.

People like Carolyn Bourne of Whetman Pinks. She gave Toby his first job and it is fair to say, she is obsessed by these pretty, scented flowers.

She is incredibly enthusiastic when we talk, warning me that she will go on and on and just to hang up the phone when I get bored.
Needless to say, I don’t hang up the phone because Carolyn is such a knowledgeable and fascinating person to listen to.

“Pinks are a plant for everybody,” she says. “They have the feelgood factor. They have been around for years. There’s a painting by Raphael from 1506 called Madonna of the Pinks, and in the late 1800s you would see them in Paisley patterns.

“The ‘pinks’ comes from pinking shears because the petals are serrated. In the 50s and 60s Montagu Allwood grew them in Devon and they were very popular as a cut flower.

“Modern pinks do fit a modern garden, because they are compact and very hardy. They have grace, movement and fragrance.
“It’s an old-fashioned flower, but a flower that has moved with the times. I think pinks are sexy.”

While Tim Penrose of Bowdens Hostas, winners of 30 RHS Gold Medals, is happy to admit that he “hasn’t got green fingers”, he is talented when it comes to running a business leaving experts in the hostas, bamboos and ferns he sells free to do what they do best. Grow plants.

Tim’s speciality is customer service. He had an award-winning coffee shop – Hudson’s in Birmingham – which was one of the best in the world, but sold up and moved with his family to Devon in 2002. When his parents-in-law’s hosta business came up for sale, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

The people he works with are the true experts he says. Like fern fan Martin Rickard – “a complete legend” – bamboo grower Paul Whittaker, David Howard, Prince Charles’s former head gardener at Highgrove House and fern expert Dick Hayward.

They’re the ones with all the knowledge, says Tim. He’s the one with all the madcap ideas, like turning a shed into a plant hunter’s log cabin with a map of the world, the gardener’s clothing hanging on the door and an old-fashioned hand operated till... all because it would be too expensive to run electricity to that spot.

So what will Tim’s talk be about?

“Getting rids of slugs and snails. I’ve written a little book of tips about it. I say ‘who you gonna call?’ Slugbusters!”

Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival is at Powderham Castle on Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3. Tickets are £5, children under 16 free. For full details visit