When I ask Tracey Leaver how many bulbs she has planted in her 23 years at the Chequers Inn, she takes a deep breath and struggles to come up with a number.

This spring alone 1,500 daffodil bulbs were placed in the troughs outside the front of the traditional 15th-century inn she runs with husband Charles. It created a head-turning display, which is exactly what her army of loyal locals have come to expect.

As well as the daffodils, she changes the displays in the 10 hanging baskets and the troughs at the front of the pub every summer. The pub puts on a third floral display at Christmas.

"We do get a lot of positive feedback from our customers," she says. "We are a little set back from the road, so I am not sure if people stop because of them but lots of people have their photographs taken outside. In the spring people say they have never seen so many daffodils."

 

 

This year's summer effort should be coming into full bloom as you read this. It will feature salvias, bidens, verbenas and trailing begonias, to name just a few.

"I change the baskets every year," she continues. "They are planned but I experiment a bit more with the troughs. Sometimes customers plant their own in there to see if I can spot them."

The displays are one of several green-fingered projects that help enhance the pub's position at the heart of life in Laddingford.

The pub has a large garden at the back with attractions including a play area and a Shetland pony. There's also an allotment which provides some of the herbs and vegetables that are used in the pub's meals.

Each year, in either July or September, the pub holds a flower show where locals of all gardening abilities are encouraged to display their wares. All proceeds go to the local primary school, which provides artwork from pupils for the event.

Tracey says: "It's not just flowers, the children make potato men and we also have vegetables and cakes. The judges are customers, who choose the winners purely on their preferences. They all want to judge the home-made wine and beer category for some reason. It's a really good social day for everyone in the village."

 

Horticultural swap shop

In May the pub also holds a charity seedling swap and book sale. Customers are encouraged to bring in cuttings or items from the garden they no longer need and swap them. This year those attending the event also made more than £600 for a local cause. Similarly, when spring is over the daffodil bulbs are handed out to the community, with Tracey planting anew every year.

And while she can only guess at how many bulbs and flowers she has planted, she has a better idea of how much she spends, with summer displays costing between £600 and £1,000.

It is difficult to measure any financial return on the investment, but it results in positive comments from customers and a degree of profile.

 

 

"If people like what we do on the outside it should represent what we do inside the pub. It's also just a nice spot to sit," adds Tracey.

"We have won a few awards for them with Ei Group and we won the Maidstone in Bloom competition a few times too. There is some press interest when you win and whenever they come to take a photograph, they want to do it outside."

Such a project takes time and care, with the flowers needing watering once or twice a day. The pub has created a timed watering device to ensure this detail is never overlooked. It means the flowers look their best for as long as possible.

"We plant them in the last week of May or the first or second week of June. It is quite weather dependent but they are usually ready in July and we have them there until October," she continues.

The one downside is that on rare occasions people have been disappointed to visit between displays when things are not in full bloom. "I have had to explain to people that you have got to give things a chance to grow," says Tracey.

And that is probably true of many areas of running a pub business.

 

The Chequers Inn, Laddingford, Kent

Style: Traditional 15th century inn
Ownership: Ei lease
Wet/Dry split: 60/40
Best sellers: Real ale including Adnams Southwold