The shrub is not dead, a panel at last week's International Plant Propagators (IPPS) conference in Shropshire concluded. "One-hundred per cent definitely not," said panel member Adam Dunnett of Wyevale Nurseries. "The general consensus is shrubs are most certainly alive and there has been a bit of a renaissance for the shrub. But there are fewer growers doing them well so if you are one of those growers the future is bright."
The panel of Provender Nurseries' Richard McKenna, New Place Nurseries' Mike Norris and consultant Neville Stein were asked to cover the provocative question of whether the shrub is dead to kick off a debate. The "renaissance" on the amenity side, said Dunnett, is because shrub maintenance, particularly evergreens, is easier than herbaceous, which is important because more and more contracts do not include plant aftercare.
On the retail side, Dunnett said shrubs' comeback is because of "fashion", with garden designers at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and television gardeners such as Monty Don recommending them more.
NFU horticulture adviser Amy Gray spoke on plant health, focusing on Xylella and Brexit's potential impact on plant health. She said growers need to be vigilant so they can control any interception on the nursery to avoid a full outbreak, with its associated 10km-circumference plant movement ban and the destruction of plants within 100m of the host plant. Brexit could be an opportunity to "iron out kinks" and look at other models in plant health regulations, she suggested, but the NFU does not yet have a position.
The IPPS event also heard Wyevale Nurseries' Ben Gregory, Plants for Europe's Graham Spencer, Seiont's Neil Alcock and Bunkpflantzen's Sole Bunk speaking on propagation, plus speeches from Bulrush's Neil Bragg, Will Burch of Osberton and Arno Engels of de Boomkwekerijj on adding value to rhododendrons, as well as Biotecture, Mobilane and Boningale on green walls.
Spencer has spoken out on Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) fees and Brexit-led changes for plant breeders. "CPVO fees, notably DUS (distinctiveness, uniformity and stability) examination fees are to be changed," he said, although the changes are not detailed. "In addition, the annual fee for granted Plant Variety Rights (PVRs) is to be revised from EUR250 to EUR330. The CPVO has not yet set an implementation date for these new charges.
"We do not yet know what other costs Brexit will add," he said, but possibly the need for both EU and UK PVRs to be held simultaneously, plus the potential requirement for a procedural representative when making applications to the CPVO. "Brexit certainly diminishes British influence on the setting of fees by the CPVO. Taken together with the falling value of sterling since the referendum, costs for British breeders and plant variety owners are increasing substantially. I can foresee that at least some of that cost will need to be passed to growers in increased royalties."
But he added: "CPVO takes a positive view of future collaboration with the UK authorities during and after the Brexit process. I'm also encouraged that they seem to be seeking to minimise the impact on applicants and rights holders."
Hillview's Boyd Douglas Davies spoke at the event on the plants garden centres want, while Claire Austin talked about specialist plants for retail sales. Visits included tours of David Austin Roses and Boningale.