Dixon On ... Landscapers tackle Olympic challenges

Hindsight is safe, prediction is perilous. Remember the "barbecue summer" that ended-up as a monsoon? But here goes. The Olympics will test Britain's abilities for landscape maintenance as never before.

Retaining vibrancy and interest under enormous crowd pressure is hugely challenging. Get it right and there will be a few plaudits from observant cognoscenti. Get it wrong and the popular press will have a ball.

Inviting large numbers of visitors into Britain hopefully means increased trafficking of landscapes right across the country. It is not only the Olympic Park managers who will be tested.

The weather already looks set to make fruit growers suffer. The long, mild autumn - now aka winter - bodes badly for top and stone fruit yields. Last winter's long frosts produced deep dormancy and subsequent vernalisation.

The result was large, high-quality, blemish-free yields. Without substantial cold before the end of January, yields will be much smaller and plagued by pests and diseases.

Market forces continue to push vegetable producers into rationalisation. Inexorably far fewer but much larger growers will fill the supermarkets' greengrocery shelves. They will achieve that using vast scales of production and at levels of efficiency undreamed of even five years ago. This mirrors similar changes in the supply of other basic foodstuffs such as pig and poultry meat.

Recessions often favour the ornamentals industry and the Government is now predicting a near flat economy, at least until midsummer. Garden centres offer the gardening public short spells of rest and recreation.

Their impulse buying favours sales of bedding, pot and foliage plants. My advice, then, is to concentrate on colour, scent and quality, but resist the temptation to offload rubbish.

This year will be one that tests knowledge and skills right across the industry. Has the education sector fitted its products for those tests?

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international.

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