Seed sales have started much stronger in 2014 than in the freezing cold winter of last year and the soggy 2012 season, but leading seed companies are still nervous that prolonged wet weather will damage returns this spring. Mr Fothergill's retail marketing manager Ian Cross says: "Now it needs to take off in the next few weeks. Retail starts mid to end of February. Us and other seed companies have our fingers crossed."
Cross says he expects a "big step up" in sales about now and trade is "beginning to lift but has not taken off yet". The wet weather is a "shame" because sales were reasonable and January was well ahead of 2013, he adds.
Last year, sales of seeds and bulbs were 5.5 per cent up on 2012 after a poor start and a struggle because of wet weather. Examples are in May 2012, seeds and bulbs fell by 20 per cent on the same month the previous year and were 35 per cent down in January 2013 against the corresponding month in 2012.
Thompson & Morgan managing director Paul Hansord agrees that sales have slowed in recent weeks after a good start, adding "we have a lot to do" to make a good sales season. "For 2014, I was hoping for a pretty average season. If the rain continues in the next eight weeks we have a problem. But if it's just three or four weeks, I'm not worried." He says old favourites such as tomatoes 'Sweet Aperitif' and 'Sungold' remain popular.
Garden Industry Manufacturers Association director Neil Gow points out that soils are going to take a long time to dry out, although some parts of England, such as the east, have not suffered too badly. "The trouble is when it picks up will it pick up very quickly and will the industry be ready?" he asks. "It's unfortunate that we focus so much on the spring season."
New developments this spring are around the hybrid seed market, which Scotts Miracle-Gro pioneered, taking 85 per cent of the new category in 2013, according to retail analyst GfK.
Scotts has developed its Flower Magic Scotts hybrid seed mix of seed coir and fertiliser to introduce the Flower Magic Pots & Containers pouch with an RRP of £4.99 this year. Marketing director Paula Parker says colour-trends analyst Pantone naming 'radiant orchid' - an "enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones" - will help sales of pink and blue Flower Magic. The majority of sales were of the multicoloured variety in 2013.
Westland's Gro-Sure Easy Flowers, launched last year, come in two colour varieties, bright and pastel For 2014, the company will follow up Easy Flowers with Nature's Haven Easy Wildflower mix, selected to bring bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects into the garden.
Mr Fothergill's Seed Cubes are another innovative approach to flower mixes, coming packaged in cubes, selling at two for £5, in a self-contained display unit.
A big promotion this year is for poppies, to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One in 1914. Donations from Mr Fothergill's Victoria Cross Poppy will support Royal Hospital Chelsea. Some 25p per £1.85 packet of 250 seeds from countertop displays will be donated.
Suttons Seeds aims to create a 20-mile, 330,000-seed poppy avenue in memory of Northlew, the Devon village that lost proportionally more enlisted men than anywhere else in the UK - 24 out of 100.
Meanwhile, Westland-owned Unwins Seeds is helping a Poppies for Schools campaign in Peterborough, East Anglia and Yorkshire. Unwins Poppy Californian Superb Mix is its the most popular seed at £1.99 on the company's website.
Thompson & Morgan's Wild Poppy is available for £2.69, with a donation of 10p going to Royal British Legion Industries - a separate charity to the Royal British Legion - for each packet of Poppy Flanders seeds sold.
Kings Seeds will now share a percentage of the proceeds from the sales of its Victoria Cross Poppy and Field or Corn Poppy with children's hospice garden charity Greenfingers as well as the Victoria Cross Trust.
Ready for take off
Suttons Seeds retail marketing manager Michelle Roberts predicts that sales will take off when the rain stops. She adds that new container seed mix Floral Fusions is selling well into stores. Also new are Microgreens growing kits.
The company's new trial ground is set to open later this year on 4ha of the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust Occombe Farm estate in Paignton, Devon. Suttons Seeds will also have an Edible Garden Show display area at Alexandra Palace on 28-30 March.
Kings Seeds is promoting seed tapes for 2014. Marketing manager Tracey Palmer says tapes suit the new or "lazy" gardener because the seeds are spaced accurately in the correct numbers.
She adds that Kings Seeds had its busiest-ever January, following publicity gained from the Essex company's 125th anniversary stand at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May 2013.
Looking to the future, Kings is set to distribute a Moshi Monsters children's range for 2015, when everyone in the industry will once again be hoping for better seed-sowing weather.