The annual HTA National Plant Show at Stoneleigh (21-22 June) saw more than 100 new plants introduced to garden centre buyers, including staff from Morrisons, Dobbies, Homebase, B&Q and many independents.
A strong end to the season gave growers and buyers a boost and led to optimism for next year. Tesco won the British Protected Ornamentals Association home-grown retailer of the year award, announced at the show, thanks to a strong partnership with Neame Lea Nurseries.
Earley Ornamentals' Simon Earley said consolidation in the industry, with Delamore rebranding as Volmary and Newey Group taking a controlling share of Avoncross, is a benefit to his business because "not all growers want to buy from Dutch or German companies and with us they have more flexibility of choice. Most of our competitors only really sell their own genetics."
Wyevale Nurseries' Adam Dunnett said the retail side of the business has been up and down depending on weather patterns, but amenity markets have made up for any lulls.
Kernock Park Plants' Mark Taylor said the season is slightly up on 2016 but has been quite standard overall. He tipped Primula Ooh La La series and Geranium 'Foundlings Friend' for 2017.
Javado's Chris Campbell said after three years winning best in show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the company took a break this year. Javado won nine medals for new plants at the National Plant Show. Its 2015 winner Viburnum 'Kilimanjaro Sunrise' sold out, while 2014 winner Hydrangea 'Miss Saori' has only this year been available in sufficient quantities to fulfil all orders. Campbell defended the numbers grown of 2016 Chelsea winner Clematis chiisanensis 'Amber', which sold out all 1,000 soon after the show, saying it is impossible to predict a win and grow for that demand. But he said he could have sold more of the viburnum had there been more available.
He said a strong focus of Javado recently has been "to identify a number of top-selling plants and to offer continuous batches of plants thus providing the same quality in the garden centre week after week".
Javado's 10 awards at the National Plant Show included best houseplant (see box). Its two new Fuchsia Bella varieties, grown exclusively for Javado customers in 23cm, bowls both picked up gold awards in the annuals category. These were shown as a £9.99 pick-up line in garden centres and the HTA used it in a display to demonstrate its "convenience gardener" category.
Seiont Nurseries' Neil Alcock said the business is growing after Lovania took over last year. Plantagogo's Tiarella 'Angel Wings' and the Buddleija 'Dreaming' series are his tips for 2017.
Quality Ornamentals' Paul Brooking said the season has been "difficult" because it was squashed into a fourto five-week peak in May and had not spread across the 12 weeks growers would prefer, for logistical reasons.
Hawkesmill Nurseries' Richard Evans had an award-winner in Geum 'Scarlett Tempest', with Allensmore and Fairweather's, as well as launching a summer herb concept, with barbecue, tea and cocktail ranges. Evans said the concept has a more "funky" pot, with designs that could go straight to the patio or be grown in the garden.
Profitplant has introduced a tea plant concept that comes in a range of pots including tea cups. The Dutch supplier also has a new range of children's complete growing containers, called Veggie World, Swamp World and Desert World. Added value for customers remains the focus, said Profitplant's Andre Doordin.
The Plant Yard's Matt Graham said the company is "working hard to identify the type of customer we want to work with because at the level we operate we don't want a scattergun approach".
Pentland Plants owner David Spray said the grower is moving into more perennials - "obviously the growth industry"
- so retail nurseries can grow their own for retail, particularly with plants that are difficult to transport. Pentland also has more varieties from Selecta.
Garden Centre Plants' Simon Catterall said last year was a success in the Barton Grange Group company's first year under a new management plan after being put up for and withdrawn from sale. The Garden Classic herbaceous range has broadened the firm's offer, he added.