Swapping my secateurs for a notebook and pencil two days ago, I headed east to the Business Design Centre in Islington to attend the Garden Press Event where companies showcase innovations in garden tools, machinery, accessories and materials to the garden media. This was my third GPE if I don’t count the two virtual events held during the pandemic. As well as tracking trends it’s a great opportunity to meet up with fellow members of the Garden Media Guild be they bloggers like myself, journalists, podcasters or social media influencers.
It was refreshing to see the huge emphasis on sustainability throughout the show and I’m highlighting some of the initiatives in this direction in this blog post as well as a nifty way to stop garden hose connectors from leaking and a collaboration between the National Trust and a garden centre chain.
I chatted to as many of the stands as I could identify promoting growing media free of peat. By 2024 no compost can be sold containing peat. This is not a moment too soon to protect unique habitats such as the Somerset Levels, which we’ve plundered for decades to produce potting compost for amateur and professional gardeners alike.
I buy masses of peat-free compost throughout the year for myself and for clients, for use in containers as well as for propagating plants so it was interesting to see the well-established brands and some newcomers. The RHS endorsed Sylvagrow peat free range is made by Melcourt who this year celebrate 40 years in the industry. Cumbria based Dalefoot is gaining a reputation for high quality (and expensive) peat free products based on bracken and the wool of Herdwick sheep. Two exhibitors use compressed coir (coconut husk) in compost blocks: Eazy Grow Compost from Eazy Gardening Ltd and Coco & Coir from Southern Trident. Once soaked in water these relatively light blocks transform into all purpose potting composts. It would certainly save lugging 40 and 50 litre bags of compost around. Southern Trident has also blended different nutrients into 9 litre blocks specifically for orchids and houseplants respectively. New Leaf peat free compost made in Northern Ireland is endorsed by garden designer and TV personality Diarmuid Gavin.
I was very taken by the attractive designs of the 100% recycled plastic bird feeders from Dutch company Singing Friend. They have developed a way to recycle the plastic lining of Tetrapak-type drinks cartons, making it into lightweight bird feeders in a neutral khaki shade retailing for less than £10. I love the story of this family company, now run by its third generation, being founded in 1951 by a man with a passion for birds. Their mission statement sums up the company philosophy well: We build a bridge between design and nature, and stimulate the creation of new living environments for birds, by people.
Continuing the sustainability theme, it was good to meet Chris Wiley of the Sustainable Plant Store, a new company selling eco-friendly alternatives to popular plants and garden products. I particularly liked the 8cm coir pots bound with natural latex as an alternative to the ubiquitous plastic flower pot. Another exhibitor proposing a substitute for plastic pots was Wool-Pots whose minimalist ecru coloured knitted ‘socks’ approx. 12 cm long can be filled with compost and stood on a terracotta saucer or stood en masse in a seed tray and used for potting on seedlings or growing cuttings and can then be planted straight into the ground. The wool will biodegrade in time and leaving the ‘lip’ proud of the soil is said to deter slugs and snails. At the moment the product is manufactured in Egypt in a factory which is SEDEX* certified and plants two trees for every order under their ‘plant one get one tree’ initiative. Wool-Pots ambition is to start its own factory in the UK.
I can’t be the only gardener to waste frustrating time each summer trying to fix a connector back on the end of a hose after it’s shot off under pressure. Qwickhose from Rivendale products have created a universal hose connector using a wing-lock system instead of the plastic teeth used in conventional connectors. Their starter set consists of two connectors, a tap connector and a nozzle spray to be stored in a neat wall mount which I shall fix to the shed wall this week. Unlike their competitors’ trademark yellow plastic, this product is a distinctive shade of blue. I got a pleasant surprise when I opened the carton to find it included a strip of recycled cotton embedded with tomato seeds!
One of the largest stands at the show was occupied by Blue Diamond Garden Centres which in 2022 began a five year collaboration with the National Trust. Naturally, as a garden volunteer with the Trust I was keen to find out more about this project. So it was fun to chat to Andy Jasper, National Head of Gardens and Parklands for the Trust. A fellow South Cornishman, he of course knows NT Osterley’s head gardener, Andy Eddy. The Blue Diamond/National Trust collaboration has resulted in several new lines including a collection of more than 60 flower seed varieties inspired by the Trust’s gardens, at least 10% of the retail selling price of which will be given to the Trust. The beauty of the Trust’s gardens is reflected in several ranges of bulbs, the collection of naturalising bulbs such as crocus and species tulips to be launched later in the year.
My favourite product on this beautifully designed stand was the box containing 14 herbaceous perennials in various sized pots inspired by the herbaceous border at NT Nymans in West Sussex. The cover of the container includes a plan of the planting scheme and a description of each plant. This bespoke collection includes Heuchera Lime Marmalade (which I love despite a client having told me after I planted it in his garden that it reminded him of lettuce!) and Rudbeckia Goldsturm. Close inspection of the plant descriptions revealed that they were all describing a Crocosmia, possibly Lucifer, but I think the exhibitors can be cut some slack for displaying a prototype containing placeholder text. The collections, which will also include the herbaceous border at Hill Top in Cumbria, the White Garden at Sissinghurst and the Red Borders at Hidcote will go on sale in April. These would be brilliant presents for someone moving into a brand new house with a blank page of a garden to plant up.
Another clever initiative arising out of this collaboration is the propagation of a limited number of specimens from two iconic trees at Trust properties: Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree from Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincs and the Ankerwyke Yew from the banks of the River Thames opposite Runnymede. The young trees are being raised in The National Trust Plant Conservation Centre based in a secret location in Devon and will be for sale in exclusive auctions in 2024. Blue Diamond is already selling a collection of the roses which can be seen in the rose garden at Powis Castle in Wales and is launching a new rose this summer: ‘Mottisfont’ is named for the home in Hampshire of the National Collection of old roses. From the photograph this new rose looks to be a beautiful multi-petalled rich deep pink.
My final shout out is to Niwaki who as always displayed their beautiful garden tools and accessories on a stylish stand. They displayed endless patience in answering my questions. The hori hori Japanese trowel remains my favourite garden tool and it was interesting to see a demonstration of its blade being sharpened with a diamond file. I also found out I’ve not been using the Crean Mate tool cleaning block properly: I should dip the tip of it in water before use. Thank you Niwaki for the selection of Japanese salad and vegetable seeds.
I’ve only scratched the surface here of what was on view at the GPE: makers of ladders, machine tools, plant foods were all there in force. It was a hugely enjoyable show and I’m only sorry there were a few Guild members I didn’t get to chat to on this occasion. Roll on next year’s show!
23 February 2023
*SEDEX stands for Supplier Ethical Data Exchange, an online system that allows suppliers to maintain data on ethical & responsible practices and allows them to share this information with their customers.