Seabrook On...Four Oaks excels but college disappoints

The Four Oaks Trade Show was in my opinion the best yet and my heartiest congratulations go to Pat Coutts and her ever smiling, ever helpful staff. The quality of plants available to retailers today, if the stock on display there is any guide, is unbelievably high.

If only the well-grown specimens staged by Channel Island Plants could have been uplifted into a retail setting for the consumer to see what beautiful things current breeding is bringing onto the market. Every cultivar and each container was grown to such a high standard, you could not find a fault. Why television cameras were not there is difficult to understand.

It wasn’t just the exhibits, as two Dutch delegates told me "half of Europe is here". It wasn’t just Europe, as I met visitors from the USA, Middle East and Australia — indeed, it was difficult to move without bumping into another leading member of our industry.

After a day and a half at Four Oaks, I visited no more than a third of the stands, although most avenues were walked quickly at the outset for an overall impression. Among the new plants, East Malling-bred raspberry ‘Autumn Amber’ was carrying an impressive autumn crop, ivy-leaved Pelargonium ‘Mexica Ruby’ is an eye catcher and growing pretty well in my back garden, while it will be interesting to see just how good the fruit is on the compact dwarf pineapple.

The day after my trip to Cheshire, a visit was made to a retail unit in the grounds of a horticulture college. The difference in plant quality there to what I had been admiring before could not have been more dramatic.

How can students learn the correct way to look after plants when the teaching premises offer such bad examples? Making matters worse were reasonable six packs of Wallflower ‘Sugar Rush’ that carried a tiny label with no more than their name.

A new introduction that will flower from September to Christmas and, if deadheaded, go on to flower again in spring surely needs some point of sale to explain these attributes, especially in a learning environment.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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