PICTURES: Bignor Weeds and Wildflowers festival

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The ladies on the flower rota at the Domesday Book church of Holy Cross, Bignor, can always be relied on to decorate the nave with something suitable for the two dozen or so souls who worship there.

Last weekend they went wild. Instead of the formal displays which normally flank the pulpit and organ, thousands of weeds and wildflowers became the congregation, filling the pews to bursting point, choking the choir stalls and draping their tentacles around the altar.

“Anyone can have a church flower festival, it’s just that we prefer to do it with weeds,” said organiser of the two-day biennial weed festival Nick Symes, a former churchwarden.

“It’s a celebration of the wonderful countryside in which we live.”

Bignor, nestling under the South Downs, had its first weed festival six years ago and has held one every two years ever since.

As word has spread, so has the number of visitors – between 5,000-and 6,000 last weekend, helping to raise thousands of pounds towards church funds.

While other villages pride themselves on the size of their marrows and the beauty of their delphiniums, the good folk of Bignor spend the year growing poppies and thistles, daisies and dandelions, dock leaves and ragged robin.

Mr Symes said: “The festival gets more adventurous every time we hold it. It’s a totally bizarre transformation with the building almost obscured by banks of wild flowers, grasses, weeds, water and trees.

“It takes a month using scaffolding, staging and tons of soil to create what is a unique experience never usually seen in a church.

“For almost a year, our villagers sow wildflower seeds and nurture weeds like nettles, ground elder and buttercups.”

New to the programme this year was a visual and sound experience on Saturday with a mix of music, special effect laser lighting, misting and visual images spreading across the church in 15-minute shows throughout the evening.

“Some people were actually in tears,” said Mr Symes. “It was quite emotional the way the music fitted in with the visual effects.”

He said there had been more visitors than ever before at this year’s festival: “We were using the Roman Villa car park and the fields to ease traffic congestion. Everyone raved about the show. There are no two ways about it – it was a big success.”

The festival means the churchyard and neighbouring fields are taken over by various craft stalls, from hurdle-making to making string from stinging nettles.

This year it also became the venue for the launch of astronomer Sir Patrick Moore’s new children’s book – Within the Glade: A Collection of Poems Written to Amuse Children (of All Ages).