N&N Festival: Wild Longings at The Plantation Garden was a delight

Wild Longings at The Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019 (Picture: Hugo Glendinning)

Wild Longings at The Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019 (Picture: Hugo Glendinning) - Credit: Archant

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival opens on fine form. This collection of horticultural musings and quiet cabaret is a delight.

Ever wondered what note bees sing to gentian flowers when they want to pollinate them? How to finally conquer invasive Japanese knot weed? Well, this garden tour offers some surprising answers.

As we meander from bridge to lawn and clamber up the sweet smelling hillsides, there are mysteries to solve and stories to uncover.

Some relate to the place itself. This garden was once a chalk and flint quarry. It was reclaimed by business man Henry Trevor in the mid 1800's. His design, a mixture of Italianate splendour and Gothic folly, created the plot as we now see it.

The tranquil setting has a power all its own. With the dulcet tones of Helen Paris teasing the audience into a state of trance, childhood memories flood back. It's only a matter of time before the garden inspires the performers to reveal their own wild experiences.

Small scale anecdotes give way to epic histories. Stories of midwives swapping cuttings lead on to Leslie Hill's tales of the vast wastes of America and the catastrophic years of the Dust Bowl. We hear how her family endured the lethal whirlwinds that flung soil two miles high, and mourn her ancestors who succumbed to 'dirt pneumonia'.

Ecological disasters, tipping points and transitions teeter around the edges of this entertaining interlude, but never become its focus.

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Instead as the afternoon ends in cabaret fashion, we are asked to sing an anthem of hope. It's a pledge to re-wild this country with every plant we choose and to 'grow plants on buses, in shopping bags and shoes!'

A final tasty touch is the freshly foraged food, elegantly served on wooden platters.

We ate the pernicious Japanese knot weed, and rounded off the tea-time treat with guitar player Olly Cherer and singer Claudia Barton. They helped us to charm the gentian, bee-style with a buzzing middle C.

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