Floral fashions 2017: a preview
The sea of bright blue flags fluttering in the breeze as you pass through West Adderbury near Banbury is a signal to slow down for the blast of colour from Ball Colegrave’s trial field nearby, one of the few places where new varieties of summer-flowering plants are trialled in this country. During July, 2,000 garden centre owners, growers, head gardeners and garden writers descended on the field to admire colour-themed displays. We’re all after next year’s crowd pleasers, the plants that will flower non-stop through summer. There are 200 new plants, from around the world, arranged into colour-themed displays such as Bollywood and Fiery Flame.
We’re fortified by a free packed lunch in a brown paper bag, so it’s like the adult equivalent of a school trip. Everyone’s asked to decide on their favourite plant and then it’s marked by a blue flag. The results are then circulated, although it’s the brasher varieties that win the plaudits. Petunia ‘NightSky’, a dark blue German-bred petunia with a Milky Way spotting has since been declared the winner (it makes me shudder).
My own favourite was a new Britishbred petunia from the Designer Series called ‘Buzz Purple’, raised by David and Priscilla Kerley. This has darkly veined purple flowers neatly edged in lime green. Even the buds are interesting, a twist of green and purple, like a discarded wrapper from a lime-chocolate eclair.
It’s one of six in the Designer Series and Stuart Lowen, Ball Colegrave’s expert marketing manager, tells me that the green edging that gives it so much eye appeal is “totally stable”. Other Kerley family creations are two begonias: ‘Sweet Spice Citrus’ and ‘Spice English Rose’. I’ve trialled these in a shady spot at home with huge success. There’s also a new tumbelina, or scented double petunia, called ‘Maria’. This soft blue sister to the worldfamous bestseller ‘Priscilla’ is on my list for next year.
Begonias are riding high. Lowen says: “They are such forgiving plants. They take the rain, the heat and the cold.” This means that gardeners can rely on them whether they’re in sun or shade, and during a cool British summer. They reflect the changes in breeding because those tuberous begonias with one or two huge frilly flowers have been replaced by nonstop begonias with masses of smaller flowers, often in fiery shades. These flower for months and, even before they do so, the dark foliage shines. ‘Northern Lights Scarlet Burst’, shone out with its mixture of smallish double and single red flowers on soft stems. This graceful begonia can be grown in pot or basket just about anywhere, although at Lowen’s home it’s enjoying full sun in a vertical wall planting. Vertical wall planters, with automatic drip irrigation, are a godsend for those with tiny gardens.
Not everyone wants a bright splash, though. Calibrachoas have small petunia-like flowers but in subtle shades of terracotta, orange and yellow. “These stay looking neat,” Lowen says, “and they don’t get bitty as petunias tend to.” Breeders have produced a double Can Can Series. These resemble small cascading roses, especially ‘Double Light Pink’; also new for this year are ‘Cherry Blossom’ and ‘Violet Glint’. Many are available in “Trixies”, the trade name for large plugs containing three plants that blend together.
Osteospermums, those floppy South African daisies that tend to close their flowers long before the sun crosses the yardarm, now come in German-bred double forms. Lowen describes these as “a real breakthrough, with strong stems and neat foliage that makes them look tidy throughout summer and autumn”. More importantly, the flowers stay open, even in the evening. The newest colour is Pink 3D, but there are several on offer, including purple.
Scent is an important selling point and nemesias not only smell wonderful, they attract pollinators. Nemesia ‘Aroma Plums and Custard’, bred by Penhow Nurseries in South Wales, has jazzy purple and yellow bicolour flowers. A late summer haircut will keep them going until late autumn. Or you could try another pollinator-pleaser, Bidens ‘Bee Alive’. This neat yellow and brown patio daisy was alive with bees and hoverflies.
What will the well-dressed hanging basket be wearing next summer? Read on…