The Shelley Common Nurseries owner, who began growing rhododendrons 54 years ago, believes costly Phytophthora ramorum inspections and movement restrictions mean he can no longer make a living.
With the Government warning that Britain will have to "think again" about staying in the EU if other members "snub" its reform demands, Middleton said prime minister David Cameron must prioritise banning plant imports to ensure that the country keeps out further plant pests and diseases. "I'm hoping to be finished this spring," added Middleton. "Defra has ruined my business. I don't want to see another plant. It costs me £200 an hour to have my plants inspected, which is appalling and is a consequence of imported diseases. They don't even know what they're looking for.
"We should not import any hardy nursery stock. It's unnecessary because we can grow and propagate in this country but EU law prevents us. We should have protected area status for the whole of the UK because we have natural boundaries of the sea. We should have the same policy as New Zealand and Australia. (Former Defra secretary of state) Owen Paterson was talking common sense but the Old Etonians stuck together.
"Growers suffer a double whammy because we pay for the costs of plant health and the consequences. If Cameron renegotiates with the EU, this should be high up."
Middleton, 71, said in 2002 inspectors started sending suspect samples for testing to York from his nursery. This meant he could not sell anything for three weeks, which has "killed the trade. It diminished overnight and I've been struggling ever since". He added that buyers only take small amounts of stock now rather than the lorryloads they used to in case they are inspected and have large areas of their nurseries closed down. He said he has skipped thousands of plants after inspections. Campaigning for parks as a "natural health service" is fine "but these diseases will kill the parks and the economy".
Middleton also advocated a return to open-ground growing, which he said needs neither fertiliser nor watering. He said he does not spray fungicides, which might have masked pathogens. New Forest-based Middleton has sold his lorry and has 12,000 azaleas left as well as some liners and Rhododendron yakushimanum. He has sold some plants to Hillier and boasts that he never bought plants from the continent.