Opinion... Home grown needs promotion funding

There are clear indications of a switch from imported to more home-grown horticultural crops, prompted by the falling value of the pound, plant health concerns and Brexit.

This has to be in all our interests and I am surprised our trade associations have not been more vocal in the need to grow our own and the way UK growers are rising to these challenges.

Surely in the next year or two there should be a return to RHS Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Palace Flower Shows of co-operative exhibits of UK-grown flowers, fruits, herbs, ornamental plants and salads. They were a feature for many years under the NFU banner and with supermarket sponsorship at these internationally renowned consumer shows, and now need to return.

If my information is correct, staging equipment from former displays are in store. There is a band of experienced people to build such exhibits along with growers prepared to provide produce. May and June are good times to be promoting — for example, soft fruits (UK raspberries and strawberries of excellent quality freely available), asparagus, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, summer bedding plants, houseplants, Apple ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ (to demonstrate what a good keeper it is), fresh herbs and watercress to mention a few.

There is a need for some money to cover such overhead costs as transport, hotel accommodation, leaflets etc and this would be quite modest in terms of the publicity value such displays would attract. Talk and ideas like this come easily enough, it is getting them into action that takes a bit of effort.

Putting my money where my mouth is, here is an offer to donate £1,000 to kick off an appeal. Are there, say, 19 others out there who will follow this lead? The HTA could act as treasurer.

We can achieve so much more acting co-operatively and I have been agreeably surprised by the free and generous support from plant breeders to supply their latest novelties for five pyramid displays proposed at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2019 in Birmingham. One of these could hold UK produce and be a staging post ahead of Chelsea and Hampton Court in 2020.

This co-operation should not end with promotion. Writtle University College is bringing together floristry and horticulture students in an initiative to grow flowers and foliage on the campus to reduce materials bought from abroad. Similarly, Capel Manor College is working in this direction.

Such action does much more than just save money — florists see how flowers are grown, horticultural students find out what is needed and both learn good commercial lessons in the process. They would gain further experience working with UK produce and staging it with experienced hands at national flower shows.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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