Seabrook's notebook

Peter Seabrook on the opportunity to make 2011 a bumper year.

An extra bank holiday for the Royal Wedding gives us the chance to make 2011 our best gardening year ever. Getting grass cut, gardens tidied, sown and planted by early May will leave homeowners all set for a very productive and successful gardening season.

We just need to be well-prepared to promote gardening at every opportunity with all concerned. A gale-force wind of change is blowing through the Royal Horticultural Society's corridors of power, opening things up for more co-operation with our trade.

The RHS Campaign for School Gardening is a good starting point, and linking this up with what garden centres are doing for their local schools is an obvious move. When it comes to staff training, the RHS Certificates 1, 2 and 3 in Practical Horticulture are natural choices and lead on to M Hort (RHS).

Every plant centre should have RHS-certified staff and, ideally, an RHS Master of Horticulture to give advice. All of us should draw attention to our professionally qualified staff - how else can we retain a reputation as the first place of call for sound gardening help?

The RHS's 'Grow your own' is another campaign everyone can support. Look at pioneers such as Alton, with its front-of-centre cropping beds, GCG, with its allotments for hire, and Fairweather's learning garden. Model allotments should be introduced to all four RHS gardens to complement the Model Fruit and Vegetable gardens at Wisley.

Plants deserve the same theatrical treatment given to Christmas stock: calling in on Old Barn GC en route to Southern Growers last December had me open-mouthed at the Aladdin's Cave of gifts. Similarly at Dobbies in Shepton Mallet, shopping trolleys were full of seasonal purchases. It had vintage seed packets blown up in size for wall decoration to underline the company's great history. However, I didn't see today's equivalents on promotion.

Centres' colourful up-front plant displays are to be commended. Coffee shops are the year-round traffic-pullers, but customers must be brought in via vibrant displays. The GCG leaflet that shows travellers where they can stop off on motorways is well done. The Bicester Centre is a welcome watering-hole off the M40, as is Chenies van Hage Centre off the M25. Is it not time the GCA produced a similar leaflet for all its members with coffee shops? Even better, link up with GCG and have a map and addresses published in a national paper - with a voucher for a free cup of coffee redeemable in any one of them.

Coffee-shop tables also need a small, clearly priced flowering pot plant for decoration and sale. Mike Cooling was the master of this idea, recycling saleable stock and thus making the decoration self-financing.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.


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