Preparing a flowery fundraiser

Kathryn Cross It has taken months of planning and planting, but it is hoped that the Great Charity Gardening Sale will attract hundreds of gardeners on Sunday. Kathryn Cross spoke to one of the organisers.

Kathryn Cross

When it comes to garden design, Clare Agnew knows her stuff. Her green fingers have twice taken her to the Chelsea Flower Show where she won a Silver flora medal in 2005 for her Grand Tour Garden (sponsored by Savills), and then upped the ante this year by winning a Silver Gilt flora medal in the show garden category for her Reflective Garden (sponsored by Ruffer LLP).

But over the past months the designer from Oulton, near Aylsham, has been making the most of her contacts in the gardening world for an important charity event.

Having recruited a small army of friends, she hopes to have more than 12,000 plants ready for sale at one of the largest plant sales in Norfolk - the Great Charity Gardening Sale at Sennowe Park in Guist.

Cuttings and seeds have been lovingly tended to ensure an enormous variety of specimens will be on sale while top designers will be on hand to offer gardening advice.

“I've got Chelsea medallists and national and international garden designers helping,” she said.

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“All the plants have been grown in Norfolk and I have asked each person to grow 100 plants for sale, whether they are cuttings, or splits or from seed. I have probably done about 1,500 myself and I have got some left over from Chelsea as well.

“I have also got more plants from Norfolk nurseries which have been donated to help out.

“I have got some other friends involved who do stone urns, lead containers, iron work and ceramic pots, to add a bit more variety, and Ed Parker from Melton Constable, who is a wine merchant, will be doing some wine tasting.

“It has taken quite a bit of organising, but I have had lots of help. Some of the people I asked to grow plants have then drawn up their own list of helpers, one of whom has about 100 on her list, I believe.”

It is easy to understand why the last plant sale was back in the year 2000 when you consider the amount of work involved in getting it all ready for the public.

Not only do the plants have to be prepared, but each one has to be labelled and priced and put on stalls with enough knowledgeable gardeners available to sell them and advise buyers on the various properties of each specimen, with everyone giving their time and expertise free of charge.

Then another band of volunteers have to be found to man refreshment stalls and co-ordinate the car parking.

Kett Country Cottages of Fakenham has provided some support and sponsorship, so hopes are high that the sale can top the previous revenue figure of £20,000 to make all the hard work worthwhile.

Mrs Agnew is especially keen to make it a great success as the charity all the funds go to is close to her heart.

The Norfolk Churches Trust aims to support all of Norfolk's 659 medieval churches and keep them open.

Many of the churches contain hundreds of medieval works of art and craftsmanship, painted screens, frescoes and intricate carved woodwork and roofs.

Spiralling costs have made the upkeep of these churches impossible for many congregations, so the trust endeavours to support them with advice and grants.

Mrs Agnew's husband, Bolton, became vice-chairman of the trust last year, so the importance of its work in Norfolk has really been brought home.

“It would be great if we could raise more than last time,” she said.

“I would hope between £20,000 and £30,000. It will be a wonderful opportunity to buy a whole range of different plants.

“At the last Sennowe sale I bought the entire contents of my large bog garden for just £80.”

The collection of plants for sale includes trees, border plants, grasses, shrubs, herbs and some more unusual plants, and while these will be the main attraction for visitors and buyers, who will be looking to snap up some great specimens much more cheaply than they could at a garden centre, this year's event also includes three lectures from internationally renowned designers and gardening experts.

They are Chelsea gold medallist George Carter, Alan Gray from East Ruston Old Vicarage garden, and Simon White, from Peter Beales Roses.

“We hope we will have a large turnout on the day,” added Mrs Agnew. “We know there are lots of keen gardeners in the county.”

t The Great Charity Gardening Sale is this Sunday, September 14, from 10am to 4pm and costs £5 entry per car.

t The 25th anniversary sponsored bike ride takes place on Saturday to raise money for the Norfolk Churches Trust. The event is supported by the Eastern Daily Press and all money raised by the participants is divided equally between the trust and the place of worship chosen by the cyclist. For more information, contact the trust office on 01603 767576 or see www.edp24.co.uk/bicycle ride.