The perfect English village fete, in the perfect English garden

Bibury, like many other villages up and down the country, holds an annual summer fete. It's very much a local affair - volunteers run the tea tent, and the raffle stall, and face painting, and the games for the kids, and the Women's Institute sell cakes and so on.
Until recently, the village fete was held on the lawn at Bibury Court, a Jacobean mansion that is the local "big house", but a couple of years ago, that arrangement came to an end, much to the dismay of villagers.
This year, however, Mr and Mrs Robert Cooper, owners of another "big house", Ablington Manor, offered the use of their gardens as a setting, and yesterday, at 2pm, to the strains of a brass band, the fete got under way.
I'd visited Ablington Manor before, because I wrote about it in my book, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, and in an article for The English Garden magazine last year. I was interested to see how the space would be used, because although there are large, reasonably level areas of lawn, there are also several gardens within a garden.
I loved the idea of serving tea in the walled garden, which gave a great sense of intimacy.

The decision to put the brass band in front of the "gazebo" (which Robert Cooper designed himself) was inspired; the band were fantastic and it was lovely to hear the music floating across the river Coln, which runs through the garden.

On the lawns there was plenty of room for children to run about, and for groups of friends and neighbours to stand and admire the garden, or swap the latest gossip. The games at Bibury Fete are always very low-tech - no arcade style games, just traditional things like quoits or races.
My friend Wendy Hazelwood was running the tea tent, and asked me to do flowers for all the tables (below). I was also doing Bakewell tart, both for the tea tent and for the WI stall, so I had a pretty busy day, but a very enjoyable one.

The flowers for the tea tables, waiting to be loaded into the car.

The WI cake stall - they'd sold out by 3.30pm! - and below, various views of the gardens


I know this sounds terribly old-fashioned, but I do think the owners of historic houses have a duty to the local community which has grown up around them. These properties are such a focal point that if the owner does not engage with his or her neighbours, it leaves a sort of vacuum at the heart of the village.
I really applaud Mr and Mrs Cooper for opening their garden to the fete - particularly in view of the fact that the garden is open in aid of the British Legion next Sunday. I'm also opening my garden next Sunday, for the National Gardens Scheme, and much as I love my neighbours, I would not want half the village traipsing around a week before the big day.


  1. Looks like it was a fab day. I love how you've embraced your local community since you moved to Bibury :)

    1. That's such a lovely thing to say, Michelle - thank you! I've now joined the WI, so I am a hard-core villager.

    2. I've just joined the WI too! A new one that's just started in Chippenham. We're having a belly dancing session in a couple of months!

  2. That does look like a lovely community spirit. Funnily enough i was going though the 2015 photos recently and came across the photos from your garden, I bet the pond has matured beautifully. Good luck with the NGS day.

    1. Thanks - I know I can't expect you two to come to all my garden openings, but if you can make it on August 28, I'm having an evening NGS opening with wine. A first for Gloucestershire! It would be great to see you.

  3. Blimey - you are right re them filling that role, but if visitors spoil gardens ours must be the pits by now, esp since we've had rain to cobble dogs with....!

  4. That's a good point - the gardens DID look OK at the end of the day. Not so much as a scrap of litter, either. But rather them than me. I know you're busy with visitors, but you must come over some time and see how mine is getting along.

  5. What a perfect setting for such an occasion. WI cake stalls are always popular :)


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