Sector thrives with shows and contests

I've been travelling around the parched north west this week from Bridgemere for the Garden Centre Group's celebration of the nursery and garden centre's founders John and Liz Ravenscroft, to Four Oaks to see Pat Coutts ahead of the trade show on 7-8 September, and then to Tatton Park for the RHS flower show.

Tatton Park Flower Show is the showcase for bedding plants via the RHS/Ball Colegrave national flower bed competition.

This is a great opportunity to promote bedding to an audience of 100,000, plus via all the associated TV and other media coverage.

From Blackburn to Jersey, Dumfries to Frinton, the event showcases the talents of local authorities, communities and colleges from all over the UK. All competitors work with a 7m x 4m bed, using plant material supplied from the Ball Colegrave commercial catalogue.

Things have become tough this year with councils cutting budgets, which means that extras such as entering the competition are tougher to justify. That said, there are 20 designs at the show this year - the same number as in 2009.

What is more worrying is that research from horticulture consultant and London in Bloom executive trustee Peter Holman (HW, 30 April) showed that bedding planting in London has fallen by an average of 30-50 per cent in the past decade as councils seek to cut their environmental footprint as well as their spending.

The most concerning feedback we heard was that while "saving water" was cited as the reason for switching to perennials from bedding, it is much more likely that "saving money" was the real reason. This can be achieved through buying fewer plants and using fewer gardeners. However, at Tatton hosepipe bans in the north west were the talk of the show.

Holman said that north of Birmingham traditional bedding was faring better, with Harrogate, Nottingham, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Solihull maintaining schemes, often connected with the In Bloom competition. But RHS Britain in Bloom changed its judging criteria in 2009 to give less emphasis to bedding. Long may the bedding competition thrive though - it gave inspiration to everyone who saw it.

Matthew Appleby. Email:, for recent leaders

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