Visits with interesting plants

The Garden Press Event 2020 – Garden trends and old friends

Every year in February or March, the Gardening Press Event brings together around 100 companies involved in different aspects of the gardening industry with the massed members of the gardening press. The companies involved collectively cover pretty much every aspect of the industry and use the show to introduce new products and plants, so the trends are clear to see.

In recent years I would say the trend has been very much towards growing vegetables and gardening for children. At this show and at others such as Glee (a trade show for garden centre buyers) there have been endless variations on raised beds for growing veg, crop covers and self-watering systems, as well as seed ranges aimed at children. Those trends haven’t entirely disappeared, but they’ve been overtaken by several main new trends – Houseplants, alternatives to plastic and ways to reduce plastic use, and ‘natural’ products for feeding plants, killing weeds and controlling garden pests.

Houseplants

Houseplants have become a huge market and look set to continue to sell for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t just the timing of the show that encouraged the display of so many houseplants, everybody I spoke to told me that sales have soared and they now stock a massive range of houseplants whereas until recently they’d probably hardly sold them at all.

Alternatives to plastic

Plastic use is on the wane at last and after all these years when really we knew we shouldn’t rely on it as much as we have it’s astonishing that suddenly so many companies have managed to find an alternative. Where there’s a will there is, finally, a way.

A bag for life that you can re-fill with peat free compost was possibly the most clear sign of changing attitudes, and a brilliant idea. Now all you need is a stockist for the compost, which can be difficult to find with Melcourt Sylvagrow, but should become easier. A company called Hygeia are introducing liquid feeds in what I can most easily describe as wine boxes. The idea is that you would bring your own bottle and refill it from the box at the garden centre, and Sentinel, a range of feeds and plant tonics being shown by Barcham trees also provides you with a re-useable pump spray. The product comes in a tiny bottle and is diluted with water.

Plastic pots are changing colour to make recycling easier, and many companies are introducing coir or moving more towards peat pots. Crocus went one step further with an expensive but very desirable range of metal pots for raising seeds and young plants. Galavanised metal root trainers and modular systems of small pots fitting into a tray in galvanised metal or even more attractive brass. They cost a lot initially but should last years and are a beautiful reminder of the sort of materials that were routinely used in pre-plastic days. I did wonder, though, how easy it would be to get the plants out when you wanted to pot them on!

‘Natural’ feeds and weedkillers etc

Chemicals are out. Well, all the products on show were made from chemicals, of course, as everything is, but in the last few years the move towards more plant-based chemical solutions to various gardening needs has been very noticeable.

Many chemicals that were used routinely have now been withdrawn from sale, of course. Glyphosate is the latest in a long line of chemicals that were once said to be safe but are now implicated in a range of different problems including being potentially carcinogenic for users and being damaging to pollinating insects. Having used some of the alternatives such as the new Roundup weedkiller which now contains the most common substitute, pelargonic acid, I’m not holding out much hope for having any control over weeds through spraying in future. Pelargonic acid is derived from pelargoniums as you might guess. It burns the leaves and stems of weeds but doesn’t have any effect on roots and I’ve seen weeds recover and regrow within a week or so of treatment. You’d be better off hoeing and hand weeding in my opinion.

‘Natural’ feeds, often sold as organic as this Miracle Gro one is, are more of a grey area in some respects, but far easier to use and adapt to. I’m not sure what is in the Miracle Gro product – the NPK is given but the label didn’t indicate what the ingredients are. Natural products would presumably include things like pelleted chicken manure, blood fish and bone and bonemeal – anything that’s not synthetically made, but some of the products I saw were also described as vegan, so must derive from plants or seaweed and not include any animal products. As long as you have the NPK it shouldn’t matter what the ingredients are as far as getting the right feed for your plants is concerned, but I can certainly understand why someone who is vegan and wants to grow their own food would prefer to use a vegan plant food product. Clearer labelling would help.

The weed suppressants in the final picture were interesting and something a bit different. The idea of preventing weeds from growing rather than grappling with them after they’ve grown is very attractive. Weed Stop contains West Plus, which is a sort of expanded wood fibre that Westland use in a lot of their composts. I was told it is now combined with bark fines in this product which is designed to be spread over the soil as a mulch to suppress weed growth, though I assume this works best for smaller annual weeds rather than big perennial weeds. I’m a huge fan of Strulch, the mineralised straw mulch, which really helps to keep weeds from growing, and I assume this works in a similar way.

The Resolva product probably doesn’t fit into this category strictly speaking as I suspect it is an old fashioned chemical germination inhibitor. It is granular and can be scattered over the soil. It inhibits seed germination so would prevent annual weeds from seeding around, but you would need to be a bit careful with it and could only use it around established plants or on bare earth, not near any seeds you’ve sown or anything newly planted. It could have its uses at the allotment or in the garden.

Miscellaneous

I love to see the smaller companies at this event, many trying to find a foothold in the market for their new innovations. These are some that caught my eye, although I’m sure there were others.

Although it wouldn’t work with either of my apple trees as they’re both surrounded by hedges, plants, compost bins etc, I liked the idea of being able to save the windfalls from damage. I always regret the large number of apples I can’t use or the time I spend cutting out bruises from the fallen apples. Many of mine end up rotting on the ground, although I always think that adds to the fertility of the soil around the tree so it’s not all bad. If you have space around your tree this could be an ingenious solution.

The middle picture is the Hydro Veg Kit – a surprisingly simple hydropinic system that apparently doesn’t involve testing the water for pH levels which I found very time-consuming when I tried a hydroponic system a few years ago. Plastic pipes are attached to a frame, plant pots slotted into holes, then you add the supplied feed with water to the tank, plug it in and the water is circulated. They’re recommending it for schools, for people with mobility problems and for anyone short of space. It looked potentially more useful than some of the vertical growing kits I’ve seen as these rarely offer enough root space to grow anything large.

The Quad grow is a self-watering system which involves a tank, some capillary matting and a couple of pots. Nothing complicated but it was well designed. A water butt can be attached to keep the tank topped up if you’re going away for longer than a couple of weeks, and there are slots for canes to support plants like tomatoes. I’ve got a couple of self-watering systems similar to this, but was struck by the neat size and shape of this one. I might be buying one of these this year. As I said at the start, this sort of system was all the rage a few years ago, but I didn’t spot many products like this this year.

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