Summer Showcase

Tower planters at Ball Colegrave
A cheeky welcome awaits visitors from Begonia 'Dragon Wing'  

Regular readers know I'm a sucker for plant trials - my own and other people's - so won't be surprised that at last I've managed to get over to Ball Colegrave's Summer Showcase. This event is aimed at professional horticulturists and the retail trade and shows off more than 50,000 plants at its grounds in Oxfordshire every July. Even on a dull grey day after last week's thunderstorms they made for an eye popping display.

Part of the huge Ball Colegrave site

As well as the chance to see hundreds of annuals and perennials - some completely new to the market - I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to horticulturists from a wide variety of backgrounds, from nurserymen and local authority gardeners through to fellow garden writers and university gardeners, as well as Ball Colegrave's staff.

The trials beds
Some of the trials beds

One of my most interesting discussions was with a couple of gardeners from South Gloucestershire council who were seriously considering the merits of the Phygelius plants in one of the experimental beds. I'd dismissed these as thugs from my experience of growing them in the early days of VP Gardens, but it was that quality plus their long season of colour which made them an attractive proposition for public planting.

Even on a dull, coolish day these flower beds were alive with bees
Whether dwarf cultivars of usually tall plants like Monarda are OK was a cause for debate on the day

We discussed the need to transition to a perennial 'plant and forget if possible' approach to municipal planting in these budget constrained times, though they also admitted the public still like and react most positively to the more traditional colourful annual bedding schemes.

They were also enjoying the 'kids in a sweetshop' effect of the Showcase, and were keen to home in their choices on 'multi-purpose' plants like the pictured Coreopsis 'Uptick', dwarf Monarda 'Balmy' and Salvia 'Lyrical'™ combinations. These were a riot of colour and were being dive bombed by a multitude of honey and bumble bees.

The dahlia section in one of the greenhouses

There was plenty of space undercover and I was happy to look in the greenhouses during a brief shower.

Retail display and pot planter ideas

There were lots of colour themed retail display ideas and suggestions for planting combinations using striking pots. It's worth arriving in time for the daily talk at 11am, where marketing manager Stuart Lowen highlights some of the new introductions for coming year.

Note that in this case 'new' can mean:

  • Completely new
  • An improved version of an old favourite
  • New colour options for an old favourite
  • Ball Colegrave has acquired the licence to grow and supply an established variety (possibly with improved genetics as well)

Here's one of the new introductions highlighted, a pink version of Petunia 'Night Sky' called 'BabyDoll'®. Somehow it doesn't do it for me like 'Night Sky' did last year, though I do tend to go more for blues and purples. It was clear from the people I spoke to there's a much wider variety of tastes and requirements to be catered for in addition to my own. From a retail perspective this variety apparently behaves better for growing on for sales.

A selection of flowers and foliage: spot the coleus, coreopsis, osteospermum, diascia, petunia, ipomoea and begonias
A small selection of the flowers and foliage that caught my eye

We were also invited to select one plant we thought particularly of note. The results of this vote are collated over the Summer Showcase season and announced once the show closes. This was quite hard to do as there were so many plants I liked. In the end I plumped for one of the 700 yet-to-be-named experimental varieties on show. I thought it was more worthwhile to highlight something in earlier development rather than a plant already deemed successful enough to be named ready for market.

Can you guess what I went for?

My selected favourite of the day, a single-bloomed, dark leaved dahlia

Yes, for me a single bloomed, dark-leafed dahlia is always going to be hard to beat. Let me introduce you to Dahlia Experimental (V2224).

I also found plenty of scope for my Great Green Wall Hunt in the shape of Ball Colegrave's VertiGarden product, but that's a story for another day...

Alpaca arrival
The arrival of several inquisitive alpacas ready for the one public open evening last Wednesday
"That spotted one is just like an IKEA carpet" has to be the overheard quote of the day ;)


  1. Fantastic!
    That is an interesting and beautiful dahlia
    Have a wonderful week!

  2. Looks like a wonderful day! Were plants on sale as well? I would have a hard time seeing all these colorful displays without coming home with a carload of new plants:) The 'Nightsky' petunia and its pink counterpart were new in our area this year, and were quite a hit at the nurseries I visited. I didn't buy either one, but a friend of mine did and noticed that after a month or so the blooms reverted to a more solid color. I wonder if others had the same experience. Lovely dahlia!

    1. Hi Rose - the plants were on sale sort of ish as orders were being taken from retailers and municipal gardeners and suchlike. There were some plants on sale for the public evening as well, as local retailers bought their spare plants for sale and the funds went to charity. The colour difference your friend found is due to high day and night temperatures - the blooms revert to solid purple with 'Night Sky' and will revert to white with a hot day/cool night. There are detailed cultivation instructions given to nurserymen to ensure the spotted pattern is retained. I need to check if this tendency also applies to the pink one.

    2. PS as an individual I couldn't buy plants. For once this wasn't a hardship - being on the Fling in the US recently got me well into training for that as I had to give away the plants I was given and couldn't take part in the plant part of the raffle!

  3. Ball Colegrave is just down the road from me ( a few friends and neighbours work there) so I usually go with my mum on the public evening. We were disappointed there were less vegetables there than in other years but it's still interesting. And I spotted Peter Seabrook!

    1. Welcome to Veg Plotting Hazel! We must have been there at the same time last Wednesday :) I wondered about the vegetables... there was still some that was of interest and the guys I met from Trinity College Oxford were blown away by some of the herbs. We discussed how the VertiGarden could be used so the college chef could have herbs and a salad bar outside the kitchen door.

  4. Thank you for showing such an interesting event


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