On a warm, sunny day, these gardens were magnificent and a credit to the few people who tend them - Jamie has just four days' part-time help per week and more than 60 island beds to maintain.
The main speaker was Gary Doerr, president of Blooms of Bressingham Plant Varieties from California. He described cultivars from six genera of hardy perennials to be sold under the Blooms brand. These included a Dicentra from Beth Chatto, Eryngium from Myerscough College, garden 'mums from Yoder, Achillea from Blooms and Lobelia bred by the late Bob Hopkins - an excellent plantsman and one-time trials manager at Colegrave.
Nothing new in all of this, you may say, until you find the hand of John Whitehead, ex-managing director of Colegrave, pulling the strings. The Meredith family are propagating mother stock in Ecuador to feed young plant suppliers, such as Rudy Raes in Belgium, a leading Dutchman co-ordinating other European growers and Meredith/Blooms Wholesale growing in the UK.
Among the audience were plant retailers and leading figures from the garden press.
A panel that included Nigel Colborn, Adam Pasco and Patrick Fairweather led a debate on the subject: "Are there too many new plants?" This raised many issues, from DNA profiling of new plants to prevent pirating to RHS Awards of Garden Merit; from changing ways for the consumer to purchase plants to the role played by garden centres.
The media people left with 18 new plants to test ahead of international release over the next few years. If all these sections of the trade can come together they will be a powerful international force promoting hardy perennials.
- Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.