|A cheeky welcome awaits visitors from Begonia 'Dragon Wing'|
Regular readers know I'm a sucker for plant trials - my own and other people's - so won't be surprised that at last I've managed to get over to Ball Colegrave's Summer Showcase. This event is aimed at professional horticulturists and the retail trade and shows off more than 50,000 plants at its grounds in Oxfordshire every July. Even on a dull grey day after last week's thunderstorms they made for an eye popping display.
As well as the chance to see hundreds of annuals and perennials - some completely new to the market - I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to horticulturists from a wide variety of backgrounds, from nurserymen and local authority gardeners through to fellow garden writers and university gardeners, as well as Ball Colegrave's staff.
|Some of the trials beds|
One of my most interesting discussions was with a couple of gardeners from South Gloucestershire council who were seriously considering the merits of the Phygelius plants in one of the experimental beds. I'd dismissed these as thugs from my experience of growing them in the early days of VP Gardens, but it was that quality plus their long season of colour which made them an attractive proposition for public planting.
|Whether dwarf cultivars of usually tall plants like Monarda are OK was a cause for debate on the day|
We discussed the need to transition to a perennial 'plant and forget if possible' approach to municipal planting in these budget constrained times, though they also admitted the public still like and react most positively to the more traditional colourful annual bedding schemes.
They were also enjoying the 'kids in a sweetshop' effect of the Showcase, and were keen to home in their choices on 'multi-purpose' plants like the pictured Coreopsis 'Uptick', dwarf Monarda 'Balmy' and Salvia 'Lyrical'™ combinations. These were a riot of colour and were being dive bombed by a multitude of honey and bumble bees.
There was plenty of space undercover and I was happy to look in the greenhouses during a brief shower.
There were lots of colour themed retail display ideas and suggestions for planting combinations using striking pots. It's worth arriving in time for the daily talk at 11am, where marketing manager Stuart Lowen highlights some of the new introductions for coming year.
Note that in this case 'new' can mean:
- Completely new
- An improved version of an old favourite
- New colour options for an old favourite
- Ball Colegrave has acquired the licence to grow and supply an established variety (possibly with improved genetics as well)
Here's one of the new introductions highlighted, a pink version of Petunia 'Night Sky' called 'BabyDoll'®. Somehow it doesn't do it for me like 'Night Sky' did last year, though I do tend to go more for blues and purples. It was clear from the people I spoke to there's a much wider variety of tastes and requirements to be catered for in addition to my own. From a retail perspective this variety apparently behaves better for growing on for sales.
|A small selection of the flowers and foliage that caught my eye|
We were also invited to select one plant we thought particularly of note. The results of this vote are collated over the Summer Showcase season and announced once the show closes. This was quite hard to do as there were so many plants I liked. In the end I plumped for one of the 700 yet-to-be-named experimental varieties on show. I thought it was more worthwhile to highlight something in earlier development rather than a plant already deemed successful enough to be named ready for market.
Can you guess what I went for?
Yes, for me a single bloomed, dark-leafed dahlia is always going to be hard to beat. Let me introduce you to Dahlia Experimental (V2224).
I also found plenty of scope for my Great Green Wall Hunt in the shape of Ball Colegrave's VertiGarden product, but that's a story for another day...
|The arrival of several inquisitive alpacas ready for the one public open evening last Wednesday|
"That spotted one is just like an IKEA carpet" has to be the overheard quote of the day ;)