Jean Jackman owns a nursery and has exhibited at flower shows for many years, but the Floral Fringe Fair at Bignor Park was the first time she had ever tried to organise one.
“It was a birthday present to myself,” she told the Observer, “to go over the other side of the fence and run an event.”
Her husband, Steve, runs clock restoration courses at Bignor Park for which Jean takes on the catering, so their first port of call was Lord Mersey and his wife Clare to ask if they could hold the event in the grounds of Bignor Park.
“We wanted our fair to be small, friendly and interesting. We started with the huge advantage of holding it in those stunning private grounds. The rhododendrons were in full flower and the views are stunning.”
Their ‘small’ fair attracted more than 2,000 visitors and despite pouring rain the previous week the sun shone.
“We were incredibly lucky with the weather. Not one drop of rain fell all weekend. Being able to bring dogs on leads proved very popular as the grounds are fabulous for dog walking. We had two celebrity dogs appearing with their owners: a truffle-hunting hound called Zebedee, and Teddy, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, who is being trained by his owner, Graham Roberts, to hunt bumblebee nests.”
Mrs Jackman said 500 of their visitors were children. “We allowed them to come in free, as it was part of our ethos they should be encouraged to develop a passion for bats, bees, butterflies and other wildlife.”
The Wildlife Trust ran a bug hunt and Petworth beekeepers brought their honey and an educational hive, with which they succeeded in banishing one child’s fear of bees.
Opera Unlimited ran a workshop teaching children about birdsong. Local willow weavers and land artists, Rebecca and Mark Ford, contributed a woven gourd ‘growing’ from the balcony of Bignor Park house. Louise and Paul Adams’ shepherd’s hut proved a big attraction, as did the Observer’s naturalist, Richard Williamson selling his books from the back of his 1945 Alvis car.
“Children from The John Ruskin Primary School, Camberwell, in the London borough of Southwark sang on the front steps of the house after their trip was sponsored by Joanna Mersey,” said Mrs Jackman. “It was a totally novel experience for many of them, being in the countryside and seeing cows for the first time.”