Seabrook On ... Quality products key to holding margins

The sale of premium products has held up well and in a number of cases increased through recent, recessionary times. Quality usually gives value for money and can carry attractive profit margins, and if this is the case garden retailers are well advised to raise standards and build respected brands.

Over recent weeks I have used three different seed and cutting composts, all from leading manufacturers, and in my view all were unfit for purpose. They contained pieces of wood, some over an inch long, large, hard lumps and two-inch long very fibrous material.It was impossible to fill small cellular trays satisfactorily and the products were quite unsuitable either for sowing such small seeds as begonia, lobelia and Streptocarpus or for inserting finestemmed cuttings.

In its report on growing media trials in The Garden, the RHS advises members to sieve seed composts first and add perlite. Surely it is the job of the manufacturer to sieve composts properly and if perlite, sand or anything else needs adding, they should add them.

Prices of growing media generally have increased dramatically and the bag volumes have dropped. Last year, gardeners could buy acceptable potting composts for 5p a litre and the same brands this year are more than 7p. I think that many like myself are prepared to pay the price if we get good products.

Visiting primary schools, it is disappointing to see poor-quality plants being delivered for the Morrisons voucher scheme. Last week, I saw soft fruit bushes that were no more than poorly-rooted cuttings with two out of six of them dead. The remainder would need very careful nurturing in their first year and then growth over two more seasons before the youngsters saw any fruit.

We all need the encouragement of success to keep gardening and even more so with children just starting out.

So where are the quality controllers ensuring that consumers get value for money?

It is not all bad news. WD Smith & Son Grange Nurseries is sending out really bold plants of hardy Petunia Gioconda in six packs that are selling fast at £6.99. Just the job for red, white and blue doorstep displays by early June.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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