The standout novelty of the dinner plate-sized flowers of the hibiscus contrasts with trends towards small and compact plants that have emerged from trade shows this year.
The Four Oaks Trade Show in September saw Diderk Heinje win best plant for BIG HibisKISS, known in the Britain as Hibiscus Rose Moon, which has now won two awards at trade shows over the past month. Four Oaks judge John Adlam says: "The size of the flower is absolutely stunning for what is a familiar plant."
The British-bred Rose Moon hibiscus was chosen as best plant at Groen-Direkt in Holland in August. It is a Farplants exclusive in the UK, licensed by Plants for Europe, whose owner Graham Spencer says supply is outstripping demand by twofold. Nurseries in Holland, Germany, France, Farplants in the UK and Poland are growing the plant, with numbers in the "low tens of thousands" for 2018 and more scheduled for 2019.
De Jong Plant from Boskoop and Heinje Baumschulen from Jeddeloh (Germany) market Rose Moon on the continent and also submitted it for the novelty showcase at the Groen-Direkt show in Boskoop.
Also in the top three at Groen-Direkt was another big blooming plant, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lady Mata Hari’, also introduced by De Jong Plant. This shrub won a best plant award at Plantarium in Holland in August too.
Also this August, Notcutts introduced another British hibiscus, ‘Starburst Chiffon’, which has double flowers that can grow up to 10cm and was bred in Norfolk by Dr Roderick Woods. The plant is low-maintenance and can survive in temperatures as low as -25 degrees centigrade.
Notcutts plant buyer Stuart Andrews said: "The Starburst Chiffon hibiscus is a truly unique and beautiful plant that will add a ‘wow factor’ to any outdoor space. Also, as Hibiscus are hardy and flower late in the season, it will keep your garden looking bright and colourful until early autumn."
Boomkwekerij Ronald Roos, which is supplying Notcutts, and Hochberg Nurseries are growing the plant, which is managed by Plantipp and was showcased at Plantarium this year.
Meanwhile, in bedding, novel colours are standing out. Ball Colegrave's summer showcase in July saw 'Ovation Dark Heart' voted as most popular plant by its 3,500 visitors. The plant was bred by Kerley as part of a new series of pot petunia designed to provide early colour sales as they initiate flower in less than 10-hour days. In 2016, Petunia 'NightSky' was most popular and has been a big hit, selling hundreds of thousands of plants.
Horticulture Week best new variety: bedding and pot plant was Petunia 'NightSky', entered by Ball Colegrave, while best new herbaceous perennial was Penstemon 'Pentastic', entered by Genesis Plant Marketing.
The new 'Dragon's Breath' Celosia was voted as second favourite, with Petunia Amore Queen of Hearts third. The public favoured Petunia 'NightSky', Celosia 'Dragon's Breath' and Begonia F1 Majestic White Pink Picotee as their favourites.
At Four Oaks, best bedding introduction went to Pelargonium Pinkerbell from Elsner PAC. Judges said it is "nice and compact, full of flower and a lovely colour". Commended were Earley Ornamentals' Petchoa Supercal ‘Light Yellow’ with "vivid high-density light-yellow colour that really stands out" and Thompson & Morgan for Bidens ‘Stop Light’.
On the patio, compact fruit plants for small space growing is high on the agenda for breeding programmes this year.
At the HTA National Plant Show, Frank P Matthews' variety Malus sieboldii Aros, another compact plant, was named best in show. Lubera won a medal for Raspberry 'Baby Dwarf' at Plantarium in August. Its first of Lowfruit variety Mini Apple Gullivers will grow no higher than 1m, as does the new Blackberry 'Little Black Sugar'.
Best annual and visitor vote winner was Silene hybrid ‘Sparkling Rose' from Kernock Park Plants. Managing director Bruce Harnett says this is the "key introduction" among more than 60 new plants in the company's catalogue. The "premium annual" avoids the "commoditised market", he adds.
Meanwhile, Alpha Plants owner Mike Roberts says salvias are in. "There is a huge trend towards salvias with a widening range and different colours and new varieties," he points out. "There is a lot of new breeding and people are getting to know them."
He adds that there could be 50,000-60,000 traditional scented, cut and come-again perennial Victorian violas around in 2018 in 1-1.5 litres rather than packs or small pots. "It's part of the general drift from bedding into perennials."
Lovania has seen the season extend into autumn thanks to the diversity of its alpines range — small plants are definitely on trend. The Lancashire grower's production of Cordyline Pink Passion will double in 2018. Seiont's Neil Alcock bred the plant and is now exporting it to France, Spain and Greece. He says better labelling informing customers about hardiness is helping bring cordylines back into fashion.
Hayloft Plants' Derek Jarman says some of the novelties that have won awards are "third or fourth division" and suggests that "bread and butter" plants will do best in 2018 — begonias and geraniums in bedding, lupins and delphiniums in perennials and "shrubs that are under 2m that flower and can be grown in pots".
What is off the agenda are Xylella hosts polygala, with olives, rosemary and lavender to a lesser extent perhaps to be imported less because of the threat of the disease. Orange petunias, as well as other colours proved to be genetically modified, are out too.