Seabrook's notebook

Peter Seabrook looks at the impact of the internet on seed sales.

It should come as no surprise that sales of plants and gardening lines are at best static at garden centres today. Their big increases are coming from food halls, catering, clothing and the like.

Internet trading is taking a steadily increasing slice of the garden trade, with our seed companies gaining big increases year on year via the net. At the Fleuroselect Conference in Leiden, Renee Shepherd outlined her activities with the three-year-old Home Garden Seed Association (HGSA).

There is rapid growth in small, packet-seed retailers in the USA. The HGSA, with more than 75 members, caters for their interests. Overheads are low for start-up seed retailers supplying home gardeners and farm shop growers.

They tend to be strong in organic seeds and heirloom cultivars, providing a very personal service. At the HGSA annual conference, members get together to bulk up orders for less commonly listed varieties and contract direct with seed growers to produce them.

What's been around comes around, and after 40 years of seed company amalgamations we now see a new group of packet-seed retailers springing up via the net. Modern methods of printing will help the new entrants, with digital printing for small runs and packets in a large range of varieties.

Floramedia currently holds a library of 150,000 images and is developing web libraries for information. Next year, we will see a barcode square on seed packets that can be read with a mobile phone. Point the phone at the square and up comes more cultural advice to back up what is written on the packet. There will also be videos showing how to sow and cultivate packet contents.

Glee proved very useful, although I hardly got out of hall 5 in one very full day. The Apple Crisps from Perry Court Farm - "dried not fried" - looked a natural product for garden centres, especially for autumn fruit promotions. Leaves falling into gutters present an annual costly problem for people living in tree-lined streets. Leo Martino's Hedgehog - "stops gutter clutter" - could be a good line at this time of year.

At every trade show I attend there are plant introductions and reminders of novelties overlooked. Choisya 'White Dazzler' comes well recommended, dark-leaved scarlet-flowered patio rose 'Special Wishes' stood out and autumn pre-packs of asparagus crowns are a useful addition to the grow-your-own (GYO) ranges.

Extending GYO into cut flowers, already promoted by Bransford/Webbs, shows promise, with novelties coming to back this up. Gerbera Landscape Series yields full-size flowers on stout stems and one pot of 'Yellowstone' at my back door has yielded 30 blooms in the six months from May to October.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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