Despite this year’s extremely difficult growing conditions, the range of new varieties to be launched and shown at the event is as wide as ever as breeders, young plant growers and wholesalers focus on creating a buzz for the coming season.
Pentland Plants, for example, has increased its stand space this year to show off its enlarged range of new varieties. As owner David Spray puts it: "We’re trying to create enthusiasm for next year — we want to forget this year."
Many exhibitors are predicting that the difficult weather conditions will continue to influence plant buyers’ choices. Ball Colegrave marketing manager Stuart Lowen says: "It has been a challenge and we were underwater for most of the season. It has been a difficult task to grow the plants and then a big logistical challenge to get them out. The conditions have been unprecedented. Now we’re going into autumn and the attitude is cautious but positive."
He adds: "It has been interesting to see how resilient bedding plants are. There are some real stars out there. You have some hot, sunny and dry years and they often show up some stars. The cold conditions this year have highlighted the plants that can cope, such as New Guinea impatiens, 21st Century Phlox, geraniums and dahlias."
On show at Four Oaks will be a range of novelties and plants from Ball Colegrave’s strengthening range of perennials. "Between Lasting Beauty and Darwin Perennials we have a large range of varieties as plugs, liners and bare root," says Lowen. "People are looking for something with novelty and a variety of uses with longevity in the garden."
Kernock Park Plants business development manager Mark Taylor agrees that the weather will have an impact looking forward. "Next year there will be a lot of interest in what has performed this year in the weather," he maintains. "Customers have been going into garden centres and complaining so people will be looking at what has been performing."
Kernock has 80 additions to its catalogue this year, including striking varieties such as Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Lemon Slice’ and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Vertigo’, which both won awards at this year’s HTA National Plant Show.
Seiont Nurseries is also looking at unusual varieties. "We have lots of new introductions for the following season, including two new hydrangeas," says nursery manager Neil Alcock. "People are looking for something slightly different with the new varieties. There is a lot of caution, but people are always looking for new stuff. That’s buyers of any size, including big garden centres or independents. They want quality and continuity, with consistent quality year on year."
Young Plants also has striking varieties among its new introductions, such as unusual new colours in its Potunia range of petunias, including ‘Mochachino’ and ‘Banana’, and its interspecific Sarita geranium. Marketing representative Sally Cullimore explains that most of the company’s business was done before the bad weather arrived, so the year has been good overall. It is now looking forward to the autumn.
"Autumn orders have been perfectly balanced, although slightly later," she adds. "Autumn has been pretty standard, with primroses, pansies and petunias. People are playing it safe. But we’re expecting people to be interested in the more unusual varieties we have. Any drop in orders is going to be slight."
The firm has enjoyed success with its Confetti Garden mixes, for which production will double next year, and its "1, 2, 3 My Colour" range, in which it supplies plugs of different flowers with the same basic colour.
Hoping to strengthen brand identity in a similar way, plant importer European Sales Direct is launching two new brands at the show — Garden Centre Fresh and Price Buster. They will be sold as themed trolley deals and have been put together to help drive visual impact and impulse sales.
Plug plant producer Alpha Plants is introducing a range of perennial liners in response to an emerging market for specimen perennials in five- and seven-litre pots and decreasing lead times from customers. The liners are overwintered with a root ball of 7.2x7.2x8cm and suitable for planting straight into a five- or seven-litre pot. Owner Sue Roberts says: "We are also finding customers want to use the larger-size liner for a rapid turnaround in a three-litre pot or our landscape customers for direct planting out as an economical solution."
Nursery group Kolff Plants is expanding its tree offering by welcoming a new member, Dutch tree nursery JW Crum. The group of European nurseries, which offers a wide range of hardy nursery stock, can now offer a comprehensive range of trees.
Kolff Plants UK and Ireland sales manager Stephen Slade says: "Crum offers varieties of every shape and size. The trees are grown on elevated containers rather than in the ground, so they are air pruned and easily cropped. We are sending them out with fibrous roots with a growing medium. There are big environmental benefits because we are not giving away soil with them."
Slade explains that it has been a difficult year for all sectors, including Spanish and Italian growers importing stock. "However, the exchange rate has been good for importers so it has been an OK season. We are not involved in retail so we’ve been better off."
He adds that evergreen hedging is still strong. "There is strong demand for prunus and Taxus. Also, formal tree planting was a big thing at Chelsea this year. People are talking about a resurgence of topiary, but really it has always been strong. There is a trend towards a bit of formality in the garden." He also suggests that a trend towards grass and pampas planting could be on the way. "There is a lot of it at the Olympic Park so that might give it a boost."
New Place Nurseries director Steven Lee says he is looking to autumn and next year for an increase in sales compared to this year, but detects a degree of caution. The nursery produces container-grown ornamental and fruit trees for garden centres to keep income streams around the year. He explains that September is the busiest month for trees. "It’s the start of the new tree season and people are starting to stock up on new products. There is normally space set aside in garden centres for trees so we are not competing with bedding."
Lee stresses that how things turn out will all depend on the weather to come. "You’re competing for that leisure pound. If the weather is good, people feel like plants, and if it’s not they spend it on something else. The weather has always been part of what we do."
The latest varieties from Ball Colegrave include new colours in market-leading series such as Osteospermum ‘Serenity Bronze’, a low-energy, early-season cool crop with uniformity and excellent basal branching.
A large range of new plants on display from Kernock Park Plants includes Scabiosa ‘Black PomPom’, with dark maroon-purple flowers, and Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Lemon Slice’, early-flowering with a mounding habit and bronze-winner at the HTA National Plant Show.
The striking Geranium Sarita ‘Lilac Splash’ is a new colour in the Young Plants dark-leafed interspecific geranium range. The company will also be extending other ranges with new products, including new mixes in the Confetti Garden range such as ‘Rockin Red’ and ‘Hawaiian Summer’.
Seiont Nurseries, which is the UK agent for Van Vliet, is introducing Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’ [picture 1], a hardy pink and blue shrub with leaves that are burgundy on the underside and chocolate-brown on the top. It is also introducing Hydrangea paniculata ‘Candlelight’, which is hardy with strong upright growth.
Young plant producer and supplier Earley Ornamentals will include the versatile and disease-resistant SunPatiens among its new varieties. SunPatiens ‘Compact Red’  produces a profusion of blood-red blooms and features a neat, mounded habit that the grower says will work well in hanging baskets.
The company will also present Mecardonia ‘Magic Carpet’ . This plant is very early flowering and it features a neat spreading habit along with a continuous display of bright-yellow flowers that are presented well above the foliage. Petunia ‘Mini Blast Rose’ is a weather-tolerant trailing variety producing small bicolour flowers with a well branched and compact habit.
Whetman Pinks will showcase two new introductions. Dianthus ‘Stargazer’ is compact growing with grey foliage and graceful arching stems, new for 2013. It has fragrant single icicle-white fringed flowers, contrasting with an almost black eye, and a flowering height of 20cm.
Dianthus ‘Memories’  was exhibited by Bransford Webbs at the HTA National Plant Show 2011 and won the best-in-show award as well as coming second in this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year. Young plants are now available for commercial growers.
Dutch company Beekenkamp Plants will show two new begonias. ‘Glory Pink’  won the HTA National Plant Show 2012 breeder innovation award. It thrives in the summer, positioned in semi-shade. ‘Glory White’  is new for 2013-14 and will be launched at Four Oaks. It is suitable for the home and garden, and can be used in hanging baskets.
A new range of 14 Delphinium New Millennium varieties are among the new plants from seed supplier Jelitto Perennial Seeds. They are fully hardy and have full blossoms and stable strong flower stems. One of them, ‘Sweetheart’, has been awarded an Award of Garden Merit by the RHS. Also from Jelitto is Coreopsis ‘Elfin Gold’, a fully hardy perennial and a natural dwarf about 25cm high with long-lasting yellow-orange flowers.
New primulas, pansies and violas feature among the 2012 introductions from Dutch company Raes Flower Seeds. Primula acaulis ‘Zebra Blue’ is a compact blue-and-white striped Fleuroselect-approved variety with tolerance to Botrytis and a long flowering period. Primula elatior ‘Veristar’, also Fleuroselect-approved, is a multi-stem polyanthus available in two colours, ‘Light Yellow’ and ‘Lemon’.
Dutch cut flower and plant producer Kolster is introducing new hydrangeas and hypericums. Hydrangea ‘Magical Revolution’  is a dwarf form with very long-lasting flowers turning from pink or blue to cream with green and finally to red. Hypericum ‘Magical Triumph’ and ‘Magical Universe’  are both rust-resistant varieties.
New pelargoniums are among the varieties on show from Elsner Pac Jungpflanzen. ‘Mexica Ruby’  is a semi-double flowered ivy leaf pelargonium with bright striped scarlet and white flowers. The variety is very floriferous and has stable flowers.
Elsner will also show new introductions for 2013 from breeder Westhoff including seven varieties of the new Petunia Crazytunia  series.
New from Swiss fruit and berry specialist Lubera is ‘Frambeasy Autumn Amber’, the world’s first amber/apricot coloured raspberry . The plant is large, high in aroma, cone-shaped and thornless, and it was bred by East
Hillier Nurseries will be promoting its Choisya ‘Aztec Gold’ , a new form of Mexican orange blossom. It is a robust, evergreen shrub with a bushy habit and aromatic foliage. Bred by Hillier plantsman Alan Posthill, it will grow in full sun or partial shade, in a mixed border or container.
Javado will be promoting Kalanchoe Queen Rose Flowers ‘Candice’ , which took first place in the best-houseplant category at the HTA National Plant Show. Another new variety is Fatsia ‘Spider’s Web’ , with green and white variegated evergreen foliage.