It's an unfortunate fact that some of the best sights for the average gardener aren’t open to the public, so it’s heartening that breeders and young plant raisers Ball Colegrave of Oxfordshire do open their doors to everyone once a year, if only for a few hours. They do it not only to show off their beautiful trial grounds, but to raise thousands of pounds for charity. The trial area is usually reserved for growers and retailers to visit, so they can see the plants in pots and in the open ground and assess which ones they will select to grow and sell next year. It’s an excellent way to see how the plants perform in “real” conditions and this year has certainly thrown everything at them, from searing heat to hail storms and howling wind.
There are some eye-catching new introductions coming along in both the bedding plant and quick-flowering perennial sections. Starting with spring bedding, the ranges of Petunias, Calibrachoa and the new cross between the two, Petchoa, are breath-taking in the flower power and colours they display.
Not everyone loves Petunia and the main complaint, that they are sticky, is addressed in the Petchoa range although the dead flowers are still a little messy.
Vinca is not a genus normally associated with summer planting, it’s more commonly used as a slightly straggly, if colourful, ground cover. The new Vinca Tattoo series will convince anyone to try them, with their attractively brush-stoked petals. New colours include Raspberry, Tangerine and Papaya.
A few years ago, one of our favourite bedding plants (especially for shady areas), the busy lizzie, was decimated by the aggressive Impatiens downy mildew. As this plant alone was worth £80million to the industry, the plant breeders put intensive effort into a replacement and we now have the Beacon series. There are six colours at present, but more will follow. The plant will now simply shed any leaf that becomes infected with the downy mildew before it affects the rest of the plant.
Pentas is a reliable summer bloomer and the range of pinks, mauve, red and white has been joined by the new Glitterati series with a distinctive star pattern on the petals. It loves a hot, sunny spot and will flower all summer if you keep up with the watering and give it a feed as the first flowers die off.
Quick-flowering perennials are ideal for anyone wishing to attract bees and other insects to the garden as well as having lots of colour. New Echinacea, lavender (including the spectacular new ‘Blue Spear’), Alstromeria and Cosmos join traditional favourites like foxgloves, Lychnis and Salvia.
For those who prefer foliage, there is a new range of Coleus: the Flame Thrower series and the striking leaves of Celosia ‘Dracula’, whose dark wine-coloured flowers are almost incidental.
Ball Colegrave, of West Adderbury, Oxfordshire open their doors each July for one evening, so make a note for next year if you would like to see this inspiring horticultural spectacular.
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