In 2010 over 30 garden bloggers from all over the world met for the first ever UK get together at RHS Malvern Spring Show. This blog documents the lead up to that event plus the subsequent informal get togethers we've had in Malvern. There are also insights into the events of 2009, insider views from various exhibitors and personal views of Malvern and surrounding places of interest.

Thus this blog also forms a valuable resource for anyone wanting to visit either the spring or autumn versions of the show, or contemplating a visit to the area.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Gentle Art of Shop 'Til You Drop

A few days ago Frances realised she and Gail won't be able to take part in the fun that is stuffing-your-car-with-as-many-plants-and-gardening-gadgets-as-you-possibly-can-plus-a-few-more game and was feeling a little disappointed. That very same day, @Malvernmeet Twitter follower Sarah Walker (aka @ArtShades) delivered the guest post she'd kindly agreed to do which shows some of the other shopping opportunities available. There's plenty of quality arts and crafts to be found courtesy of the Worcestershire Guild of Designer Craftsmen and their stalls are in the very same cattle sheds which Edith told us about in her recent guest post.

So without further ado, here's Sarah to tell you a little more about life as an exhibitor...

The Malvern Spring Gardening show is as eagerly awaited by enthusiastic craftsmen from the three counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire as it is by enthusiastic gardeners.

For members of the Worcestershire Guild of Designer Craftsmen it’s the first big show of the year and we all look forward to meeting at Malvern in May. It’s great to get together again after months of toiling away alone in our workshops and many of us haven’t seen each other since our pre-Christmas show.

The show set-up is full of enthusiasm – we are all eager to unpack new stock and reveal our new designs. It’s a cheery and fun atmosphere with everyone helping each other to put on a good display. There’s everything from fine furniture to ceramics, a variety of textiles and many forms of glass, willow baskets and silverware, forged metalwork and jewellery in numerous styles and materials.

Most of us bounce in bright and early on the first morning of the show full of optimism and anticipation. There’s always a discussion about the weather forecast and how many layers we have or haven’t put on. The weather at the show over the years has ranged from four days of cold winds and constant rain to sweltering heat when you can think of far better places to be than a dusty cattle shed.

On the first day the serious RHS gardeners appear once they have scoured the show for the prize plants and visited the floral marquee to see the blooms at there very best. There is a steady flow of visitors and it is a very civilised atmosphere – these visitors know quality when they see it! As exhibitors from the same tribe we share the excitement of the first big sales and wide grins are exchanged as a Guild member leads their first customer to the communal credit card machine. It’s a long day, but everyone is fired up by the positive response to their work and goes home happy.

Friday is busy from the start – it’s usually a good day for sales. Visitors are chatty and interested in our work, often they have taken the day off work to be there and they make serious purchases. It is also the start of the game we play – spotting the ‘must-have’ plant of the year. We start to make predictions as more and more of the same thing comes wafting past. One year it was Acers, another double clematis, then hellebores, hostas, blue Himalayan poppies and ornamental grasses. We go home happy, but in need of that large glass of wine.

Saturday is full of couples and keen families. For me it’s great that husbands and wives are shopping together as my lamps are often a joint purchase. We start to spot the gadget of the year – usually a cumbersome object that is designed to inflict as much damage as possible on the surrounding crowds. Over the years we’ve seen the telescopic window mop, all manner of folding wheelbarrows, the brightly coloured plastic trugs and wire plant supports (often worn elegantly around the husband’s neck). Sales are usually brisk and we are busy chatting to our customers. We start to flag in the afternoon and if some kind soul has baked a cake word soon gets round and you’ll find us deserting our stands and hotfooting it to the tea cubicle for a sugar rush. By the end of the day our bums are numb from perching on a high at-eye-level-with-your-customer stool, our feet ache and we are tiring of being so nice to everyone! We get home and immediately bark at our loved ones for not anticipating just how tired we would be and making sure the dinner is ready and waiting. At this point you wonder if you’ll ever be able to smile at anyone again.

Everyone drags themselves in on Sunday and the show takes a while to get going. We moan a lot on Sundays! Our joviality has run out and we now know why it is we work alone. Having confirmed both the plant and the gadget of the year we are now sick of seeing them. If it’s hot we like to complain about the amount of flesh on show, the dripping ice creams, the sticky fingers and where we’d rather be. If it’s wet we moan about the dripping waterproofs, brollies and contents of the burger buns. Many of the visitors have no interest in what we are selling and plod aimlessly through the hall following the crowd in front, without ever turning their heads. One bonus is that we don’t have to smile as much on a Sunday as so few people make eye contact! We are eternally grateful to those that show a genuine interest in our talents and hand over their hard-earned money on a Sunday. They are the real highlights of our long day.

As 6pm draws near, and word goes round that we can pack up, the lethargy disperses and we dismantle our stands and march our boxes back out to the cars and vans with renewed vigour. The display boards and electrics are whisked away and we all help to load up the trailers. After four days in a darkened shed I lift my eyes to the beauty of the Malvern Hills and am eternally grateful that I live there. I am within just five minutes of that bottle of Pinot Grigio waiting for me in the fridge. Cheers!

We hope you can tear yourself away from all that is gardening and venture into the Wye Hall to say hello.

Sarah Walker

Sarah designs and makes contemporary lampshades and writes a blog about her design ideas which are often inspired by her garden on the Eastern slopes of the Malvern Hills. [She also visited Painswick Rococo Gardens a few days after I did and it's interesting to see how her visit and The Exedra in particular, inspired her - Ed]

She is a member of the Worcestershire Guild of Designer Craftsmen, which exhibits in the Wye Hall at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show and the Malvern Autumn Show.


Anonymous said...

Frances and Gail are not the only ones, Ewa and Yolanda won't be doing that either so it's good to know that there's more on sale than just plants and plant gadgets. Thanks Sarah, I enjoyed reading it. Have a great Malvern this year, even on Sunday!

Yolanda Elizabet

Anonymous said...

Oh this is the best news, VP, thanks. We do love art shows, and go to them frequently here, especially the big one in Asheville, also by a guild. We will find a few things that will fit into the suitcase for sure! Maybe they will ship to the states for larger items? Hooray! I am so excited, loved those lampshades. :-)

Carrie said...

Oh dear, I didn't know about that bit, poor Andrew. Hahahahaha I best leave the credit card at home! Looks fabulous.

Gail said...

VP, Excellent!

Frances, I think we might have to purchase extra suitcases to haul all the goodies home...

VP, I love those lamps that Sarah Walker makes! Too bad your wiring is different;)


M@M aka VP ;) said...

Hi everyone - so glad Sarah's article has whetted your appetite for the non-plant side of things :)

My friends D & S were too shy to meet JAS last year, but spent hours in this part of the show getting lots of inspiration and wanting to attend all kinds of workshops once we'd got home.

ArtShades said...

Look forward to meeting you all at the show - are you all going to wear a big MM badge?! So glad you like my shades. Just to let you know Gail, I can wire any of my lamps with US fittings... hold them in stock.

easygardener said...

This isn't good. It is bad enough trying not to max out the credit cards buying plants and garden sundries. Now there are going to be attractive craft stuff as well. I am going to have to wear a blindfold for part of the time!

Gail said...

VP, I am in serious trouble if the wiring can be made for US use!...Looking for easy to carry suitcase for clothes and heavier duty one for goodies! I might actually get money back on my VAT charges! Yikes!


Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

How I can resonate with this post - it reminds me yet again why I have given up doing craft fairs.
Delightful and accurate and I look forward to meeting you Sarah.
Gail and Frances, you will have to bring a bag in a bag, in a bag, and leave all clothes makeup, books etc at home!

M@M aka VP ;) said...

Artshades - we will be wearing some kind of badge so you won't miss us!

EG - you won't be able to control yourself judging by your past buying record ;_

Gail - looks like I'm going to have put stuff into storage for yourself and Frances!

Karen - interesting how familiar this all sounds to you. Thanks for adding your insight :)