HTA show saps visitor numbers at Woking Nursery Exhibition

Competition from the HTA's National Plant Show (NPS) led to a significant decrease in visitor numbers at the Woking Nursery Exhibition last week, but organisers remained bullish about the event's prospects.

Overall numbers fell from 700 in 2009 to 540 this year, a drop of more than a fifth. But committee chairman John Hall defended the long-established show and said he was confident it would remain a key date on the horticultural calendar.

Hall said: "It's obviously quieter than last year, but we are still very pleased with the quality of the visitors. There has still been a good influx of quality buyers and we have never been about quantity - it's always been about quality."

Pressed on whether the NPS could force a change in the emphasis of the Woking show with fewer national suppliers exhibiting and more local nurseries keen to supply the region's landscapers and designers, Hall conceded that the organisers "might have to change focus".

But show organiser Helen Roberts insisted that the event had a future. "If the growers in the region don't go to a national show, then the buyers will still have to come here. This year there was a lot of interest because it was the first year, but things will level out."

Committee treasurer John Talbot added: "This show is going to go from strength to strength - we are confident about the future of the show."

The mood among the 68 exhibitors was mixed, with many disappointed by the numbers - while others predicted that the show would recover from what was just a temporary setback.

Lowaters Nursery production director and NPS steering group member Charles Carr said: "There were far fewer retail visitors than normal and there were very few people who had visited the NPS who also attended Woking.

"We did, however, meet several good customers at the show and had the time to pay them some attention, with the potential for having gained some new business."

Conscious that appearance at the show is at the discretion of the committee, many growers insisted their comments be kept anonymous. "Obviously it is a lot quieter than normal this year," said one. "A lot of the national buyers seem to have stayed away. But it would be foolish to pull out after one year as we might not be asked back, so I am sure we will stay for at least one more year."

Another grower said he was disappointed by the visitor numbers but stressed that it was "premature to talk the show down".

He added: "This is just the first year the shows have been close together. Woking has been around for 30 years and I am sure it will still be around for another 30."

Garden writer Peter Seabrook struck a more positive note, saying he was sure the show would remain a vital and enjoyable annual event.

BEST NEW PLANT AWARD

The Raymond Evison-bred Clematis 'Cassis' won the best new plant award at the Woking Show.

It was entered by Liss Forest Nurseries. Owner Vince Catt collected the trophy. He said: "It's a stunning summer flowering Clematis ideal for rambling through shrubs or up against a south-west wall or trellis. It flowers over a long period from July through to September. We are delighted to win the award because it helps add commercial value."

The Sun garden writers Steve and Val Bradley, RHS The Garden magazine features editor Phil Clayton, retired nurseryman Peter Higgs and Floramedia managing director Nick Mathias judged the award.

'Cassis' edged out Buddleja 'Sugar Plum', introduced by Lowaters Nursery's Garden Beauty brand, which the judges gave second place. Hydrangea paniculata 'Wims Red', introduced by Premier Plants, came third.

The best stand award went to North Hill Nurseries for the fourth time in five years and was collected by owner Robert Small. "Things have changed for us," he said. "The garden design and landscape sector is bigger than garden centres now. That's why we try to do the stand well."

- See p9 for new plant introductions at the show.


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