Growers at National Plant Show report a good season amid continued political uncertainty

UK growers and planteria managers were celebrating a successful season at the National Plant Show (NPS) in Stoneleigh on 20 June.

Marcus Cousins with NPS new plant winners
Marcus Cousins with NPS new plant winners

Issues discussed included labour and exchange rates, caused by the the Brexit vote almost exactly a year ago, which took the industry by surprise just after last year's show.

What could have led to an increase in home production has been obscured by a good weather season for growers, who are now weighing up whether to increase production for 2018 on the back of a positive 2017.

Many remain cautious because so little has been decided politically since the vote.

Growers reported a strong season, with Bransford Webbs for example saying they were 5.5% up on last year, and with hopes for a better June and July thanks to greater plant offers for the summer.

Dutch importers such as Profitplant and Javado, who jointly won houseplant of the year with Gloxinia Sonata Pink Spot grown by Ten Have, said sales had stood up as the season went on, a year after the Brexit vote caused them concern on 23 June 2016.

Importer The Plant Yard said sales had recovered after the "massive impact" of the "unexpected" vote last June which arrived during a later season before many invoices had been paid, thus cutting margin as exchange rates changed. But better weather early this year strengthened sales, not withstanding fluctuating currency.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis Machin said there is "no crisis" in labour recruitment from Europe but numbers are down and EU temporary workers are finding the UK less attractive to work in than a year ago.

Machin said Defra has indicated it was working on a scheme, which could be a Seasonal Agricultural Workers-style setup, and that the industry was "lobbying hard to make sure of supply". He said there was apprehension within the industry and that would be brought up at the first post-election Ornamentals Round Table meeting, in July, with Defra minister George Eustice.

In Christmas trees, wholesale prices could be cheaper, but British-grown remain attractive because of exchange rates. Potted trees look to be gaining ground as a more sustainable, longer-lasting alternative.

Plant of the year Malus sieboldii Arus from Frank P Matthews typified the compact sort of low maintenance plant which has a long season that gardeners are looking for. Judge Marcus Cousins said anything that did not need as much maintenance or time spent on it was proving successful. 

Fairweathers and Darby won herbaceous perennial of the year with Adenophora 'White Blaze', which showed a trend towards white plants. Fairweather's is also a leading exporter, showing potential in that field for growers.

The scope for more propagation by British nurseries in the face of importing becoming more expensive becuse of exchange rates and difficult because of pest and disease issues was also brought up by Frank P Matthews' Nick Dunn. Kernock Park's Richard Harnett said smaller plants such as alpines fitted the same bill as being attractive as gardens shrink. Kernock won best annual with Silene hybrid ‘Sl 11 04-61 Sparkling Rose.

Orange petunias were a talking point after GM issues caused them to be withdrawn this year at an inopportune moment in June, when replacements from breeders would be too late for the market. Newey Group's Kersten Catella said an industry standard could be introduced from a body such as BOPP, LEAF or NPS GAP. Catella, the BPOA vice chairman, said a BPOA conference in October will set out how the organisation will work in the future after a review this year.

Newey Group is holding Florafest at nearby Alderminster until 23 June. Newey won best climber/shrub at NPS with Passiflora Riverside Snow Queen. Another associated event was the Bedding and Pot Plant Centre's open evening, at nearby Baginton Nurseries, where peat-free trials showed success and growers gave ideas for future research projects as the facility.

Wyevale Nurseries won silver awards for its Phormium ‘Blondie’, Morus ‘Mojo Berry’ and Alstroemeria ‘Little Miss Zoe’ and bronze awards for Edelweiss ‘Blossom of Snow’, Agapanthus ‘His Majesty’ andHydrangea ‘L.A. Dreamin’.

Hawkesmill Nurseries won silver for Salvia 'Pink Lips' and Viola 'Bridie'.

Johnsons of Whixley's Veronica Moody Blue Sky Blue was awarded a silver medal in the herbaceous perennials category.

Among retailers at the show, Hillview Group's Boyd Douglas-Davies said retail sales were 42% up last week as garden furniture and planted containers flew out. Alton Garden Centre's Andy Bunker said taking the season as a whole overall sales were 10% up and planteria sales were 15% up. Paresh Raithatha, who owns Ansell Garden Centre, said plant sales at the end of May were 25% up. John Lewis saw a 55% increase in outdoor living sales compared to last year in the week ending June 17.

Online plant sales possibilities was a hot topic after Dobbies revealed big plans to enter the market with Ocado. The HTA said online gardening sales were 9% of the market last year, with plants less than half of that, but that there is "big potential" in the plant side.

Among personnel changes:

-Ian Howard, formerly of Ornamental Plants, was at the show as sales manager for Manchester-based grower tomato and ornamentals grower Robinsons Nurseries.
-Richard Lockwood was there as Dobbies' senior plant buyer.
-Glendale are set to appoint a new nursery production manager.
-Tim Evans is now with Wyevale Garden Centres.
-Steve Pitcher is working with Homebase/Bunnings, covering Sarah Coldrake, who is on maternity leave. He was buyer a Wyevale Garden Centres and B&Q.
-Geoff Caesar finishes at Bransford Webbs on 18 July before starting at Ball Colegrave's Bordon Hill on 22 August, where he will help develop nursery stock and perennials as long-term successor to Peter Byrne, showing how the the cross over between bedding and traditional nursery stock is growing.

-New RHS plant trials manager is Sabatino Urzo after Mark Heath retired.

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