Central support manager Andy Collie of grounds maintenance company John O'Conner, which ran the seminar, said he hoped it would be the first of an annual series "aimed at educating, raising awareness and building partnerships".
Speaker Stuart Lowen, who is marketing manager at Ball Colegrave, told the audience it worried him that he still gets tenders asking for old varieties of plugs and seeds that have been superseded by improved varieties several times over.
Lowen recommended visiting trial grounds, such as Ball Colegrave's summer open days in West Adderbury. He added that architectural foliage plants and begonias are making a comeback, highlighting the Begonia Million Kisses series as a range of low-maintenance varieties that cope well with wet and dry conditions alike. Lowen also suggested park managers use a small area of ground to test new varieties themselves.
Bedding grower Morris May, who owns Chertsey-based nursery Planta Vera, told the audience that the links of communication between parks managers and growers have been broken in many boroughs.
To combat this, he encourages the 16 boroughs he supplies to visit his nursery and is working on a bedding guide for councils. The Ball Colegrave Parks Tools Kit CD was given out at the seminar, which provides suggestions for planting combinations.
May also emphasised the importance of parks teams placing their orders early: "The best time to think about autumn bedding is in April. If you place the order then it means you will get the colours and specifications you require and it will help the grower."
Bulrush south-east area manager Michael Clarricoats spoke about alternatives to peat. He said that around 30 per cent of professional growers were producing a proportion of their stock in peat-free mixes but that it was unlikely the aspirational 90 per cent peat-free target for the UK would be met in 2010. He believes only 63 per cent peat-free is feasible.
Clarricoats added that drawbacks to peat alternatives include the carbon footprint of coir, which is shipped halfway round the world from Sri Lanka, and the inconsistent nutrient content of green waste material.
Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust park manager Mark Evison said: "It was interesting to learn what goes into the production of the display and to see that peat-free may not be as environmentally friendly as the headlines say."
East Hertfordshire Borough Council contract manager Keith Warden said: "My local authority clients tend to stay with the same varieties every year. Unless we come to an event like this we don't know what's out there."
www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/ornamentals for more plant news.