Buyer's Guide: Seabrook's notebook

Peter Seabrook returns from the Dutch Pack Trials with a fresh perspective on the benefit of plant introductions.

Visiting the Pack Trials in Holland, seeing new plants from more than 20 international plant breeders and discussing garden trade matters with fellow traders from around the world over two days gives a good window on future trends. I returned home with the worry that independent garden centre retailers are being left behind.

Their various small buying groups might help to do attractive deals on garden sundries but are the kiss of death to new plant introduction. The B&Q buyer, television shopping executive and mail order manager all seen in Holland can secure a good novelty and give the breeder immediate national distribution.

There was a time when the Garden Centre Association secured good new plant introductions and promoted such novelties nationally on behalf of all the membership. Indeed, this kind of promotion strengthened the independent's reputation as the place to go for all that was best and new for gardeners.

Presumably I'm living in the past and our large independent garden retailers are now out-of-town department stores where the restaurant and shopping experience have replaced the core gardening business. It was, however, of note that growers Rowland and Michael Smith had taken the plant buyers from Country Gardens with them. They brought back sample plants for 2011 launch to grow on trial this summer. Last year they had Andy Bunker of Altons Garden Centre with them, so co-operation between independent grower/retailer is possible.

Recruiting youngsters into horticulture is a continuing discussion point and Aylett's Nurseries got good local publicity with its Martin Finney showing Fairway Primary School children how to grow vegetables. Links between garden centres and local schools has to be a good thing.

Once we get youngsters interested in growing plants, they need heading in the direction of the right college. Capel Manor, Middlesex; Greenmount, Northern Ireland; and Hadlow, Kent look to be the front runners, from all I've seen in recent weeks.

Breeders around the world are introducing novelty tomatoes for patio pot cultivation. Vegetalis in Norfolk has a range for hanging baskets, window boxes and patio pots, both large and small. That should keep home tomato growing on the boil.

One very experienced Dutch tomato breeder advises dropping ripe tomatoes into cold water for a few moments before eating: this makes them sweeter and tastier. Remember, you read it here first!


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