The Dutch Flower Trials are as much an opportunity for continental young plant suppliers to promote new lines as for breeders to showcase new breeding.
Among them, and occupying 4ha of rolling benches south of Rotterdam, Schneider produces both seed-raised and cuttings-raised, for the bedding and pot market, and a range of perennials. UK sales manager Brian Miners says: "We are really just starting in the UK but are already building a network of agents."
German-based Kiepenkerl has also been establishing itself in the UK market over the past three years, according to UK sales manager Colin Robinson. "We sell rooted cuttings, though some growers want to do it themselves," he says. Although customers may worry about a fluctuating exchange rate, he adds: "We start selling from the new catalogue in September at an exchange rate that's set then."
Fellow German young plants supplier Elsner PAC's UK representative Anthony Andrews says: "This year the Dutch and German companies have got better organised and are no longer competing with each other." The trials in North Rhine Westphalia are now an important event in their own right, with Dummen, Kientzler and Westhoff as well as Elsner PAC all showing, he adds - though Elsner PAC also showcases its existing and upcoming varieties at its showground in April.
The company claimed to have introduced the first truly yellow Pelargonium in 2008, and this has now been improved. "It's still a primrose yellow but has better habit and performance," says Andrews. So far the current season is picking up steam after a slow start, he adds. "Here in Lincolnshire the floodgates have opened and retail nurseries are selling out of several lines."
Warwickshire's Young Plants managing director Alex Newey is unfazed by continental young plant suppliers looking to promote UK exports. "It's a very competitive market, but competition can be a good thing," he says. I'm not too worried about imports - the exchange rate is still weighted in our favour - and as a smaller family-owned business we have a small chain of communication. You have direct access to the owners, which people in our industry value."
Newey continues: "Also, being independent, we can choose from any supplier. Most of our competitors have their own breeding lines or have an allegiance to one or other breeder."
Like other British young plant suppliers, he uses the Dutch and German trials as an opportunity to see where ranges can be improved and extended. "Usually, if the breeders are offering them for sale this year, we can supply them as young plants the following year," he explains.
New breeding from Danziger and Fides particularly impressed him, says Newey. "Danziger's Nemesia fruticans Nesia series now has an unusual dark magenta, and its Calibrachoa Noa has some strong new colours too - and Fides's Osteospermum Margarita is the most uniform range of Cape daisies, as its trials showed."
He adds that the industry is "on the start of a journey" in developing cutting-raised garden Begonia hardy enough to take the worst of the British weather. "A lot of different breeders are doing work on them - they can breed any colour but blue and there's a lot of different flower forms too."
To highlight the trend, the firm will give over part of its summer open days to a "Begonia Bash", showing varieties, marketing material and sales ideas. It has also come up with a marketing campaign called "No Bother Begonias", emphasising their ease of use.
"A lot of people don't want to get their hands dirty with feeding and deadheading - they just want plants that will get on with it," says Newey. The Petunia market continues to develop too, he adds. "Surfinia is very well established but is very uncontrollable - it can look really messy in a 10cm pot - so a lot of breeders have been trying to develop something smaller, more compact and forward-facing that can be produced two weeks faster."
Thompson & Morgan head of wholesale Nigel Judd also finds the market buoyant. "We are still relatively small as a young plants supplier, but sales have increased dramatically over the past 18 months and I will more than double the range in our UK catalogue this year," he reports. "Smaller customers don't want the hassle of growing from seed, especially with less well-known plants."
Hollyacre Plants managing director Simon Davenport shares the aim of making life easier for growers. "I am looking for ways of growing that are easier and less demanding in terms of inputs such as heat and are therefore cheaper - it's something that most breeders' programmes are working on," he says.
The HTA National Plant Show showcased the best of British growing and the event featured several UK young plant suppliers, among them Pentland Plants based in Midlothian. Speaking before the event, company partner David Spray said: "We are showing all our varieties at the show, including new varieties of Surfinia-type Petunia from Dummen.
"They are different to what everyone else is growing, with I think stronger colour and better habit. But we are fortunate in not being tied to any one breeder, so we can pick and choose what we think are the best plants from each - that's our strength."
Cornwall's Kernock Park Plants, meanwhile, is benefiting from European cooperation because the company is helped in bringing new products to market through its membership of Proven Winners, a pan-European variety licensing group, explains sales manager Mark Taylor.
"When a breeder comes to one member of the group with a new plant, he knows that he will then get Europe-wide cover," he says. "We have good relationships with a number of breeders and their agents, including in the UK."
He points out that Kernock Park sees the market for herbaceous plants displacing sales of more traditional bedding lines. "The herbaceous market is up dramatically for us, while bedding and patio are slightly down," he says.
"We got into liner production after taking on Hewton Nurseries' range and that has brought us a new market for things like grasses, Penstemon and Weigela, as growers look to expand their portfolio of products. I think it's media-led to some extent. Herbaceous plants are quite high-profile at the moment compared with bedding, which has never been very sexy."
- Petunia Supertunia 'Pretty Much Picasso' is a Proven Winners variety supplied by Kernock Park Plants. It has the unusual colour combination of predominantly deep pink flowers edged with lime green and is ideal as a vigorous landscape plant.
- Water Colours is an addition to Dummen's Confetti Garden mixed cuttings range, in this case incorporating Lobelia 'Hot Water Blue' rather than a Calibrachoa, as with others in the 15-strong series. Available from Hollyacre Plants.
- Gerbera Garvinea is a groundbreaking range of hardy landscape Gerbera bred in Holland by Florist De Kwakel and now available commercially in the UK through Hollyacre Plants. British trials have so far been "very encouraging", says sales and marketing director Simon Davenport.
- Verbena Veralena is a four-strong series of Danziger-bred cutting-raised Verbena that are now available from Schneider.
The quick-growing series has been extended with the introduction of 'Cosmic Blue' and 'Elegant Violet'.