I struggle to get excited about a thing that has nothing going for it, except that it's new. So I'm far more comfortable supplying the amenity market than I would be supplying retail.
Fashion sells in retailing, but what drives fashion? Sometimes it's technological innovation - think of Gore-Tex and how tweed moved over for the bright colours of modern-walking gear. More often it's simply the need to sell something new.
Retailing requires a means of telling consumers what's in or out. In our world, that's done by gardening celebrities in magazines, books and television programmes and by all that point-of-sale material that clutters up garden centres. We like to imagine the collective zeitgeist is led by fashion gurus, but it's actually a process guided, or at least responded to, by business.
This year's Hosta is not much different to last year's Hosta. Lots of money is spent on promotion, punters get excited and buy more plants. I have no problem with this - it's what makes the world go round - except it impacts on the amenity market. Design styles change, occasionally a truly "better" plant is discovered and we should respond accordingly. But amenity demand isn't stimulated by new introductions. Amenity growers must respond to demand created by landscape architects.
Predicting demand for trees and shrubs isn't such a problem - designers are familiar with what does what and growers get the levels of production about right. But predicting demand for any given herbaceous plant has become a lottery, resulting in high rates of substitutions and disappointment. One reason is the absence of a good reference book telling designers what's both "best in class" and readily available. Without that point of reference specifiers turn where they can, and all too often that's a gardening magazine or television program.
Electronic or hard copy, let's have support for an authoritative document that puts this right please.
- Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries.
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