The atrium plants area at GLEE

I've often wondered whether a visit to GLEE would be worthwhile, so the call for blogger ambassadors at the event was a welcome opportunity. Was the trek up the NEC worth it? You bet - with jazz hands, an energetic dance routine, and knobs on.

GLEE is huge. There are 4 halls stuffed with 550 exhibitors showing all kinds of wares aimed at the garden retail industry. Naturally buyers are the key audience for this event, and as a result I feared bloggers wouldn't be made welcome. Happily that fear was unfounded, from the moment I presented my entrance ticket right up to closing time.

How to make sense of what's going on? Preparation is key. The GLEE website was an essential pre-read with lots of temptation, then I added some key headings I wanted to explore, such as 'funky pots' and The Great Green Wall Hunt. Finally I added some of my personal garden projects for next year, to see what the industry has to offer.

Even with that little lot to get through, I soon went off-piste. It would have been rude not to.

One of the four Retail Lab themes

First Impressions

After a quick hello, coffee and pastry at the friendly Press Office, I found the Retail Lab and the Product Showcase were the ideal way to get my bearings. The Retail Lab offered 4 key themes seen as market sectors retailers should focus on: Re-wilding, Community, Well-being and Family. Visits to the lab were recorded (including return ones) to help the organisers assess the effectiveness of this initiative. I also thought it was a great way to inspire retail displays, something of a pet peeve since I've seen lots with a wow factor on Fling visits to the States.

Hundreds of new products on display

The New Product Showcase was stuffed with hundreds of innovative ideas and new products. This was a heartening display as it highlighted the wealth the garden industry has to offer. It also reinforced a key message I'd heard on Breakfast that morning: the garden retail industry is worth £5 billion. That's a huge amount of opportunity for product developers, suppliers and retail.

Funky pots

Some of Elho's pots

I certainly had no problem in finding pots to fit this heading. First up is a selection from Elho I tweeted, which also includes a couple of fab water saving ideas. Their refreshed design and retail philosophy centres around the phrase "Give room for nature" and I liked lots of what I saw. Not pictured is the extended range of pots made from recycled plastic aimed at the Grow Your Own market in particular. I learnt later that Elho are aiming for all their range to be 100% recycled by 2020.

A fraction of the Burgon and Ball display

Burgon and Ball also had a rather nice line in funky pots, especially their cactus shaped ones. To be honest I could have taken most of their stylish stand home with me, not just the pots. They've stayed close to their Sheffield steel roots too, with their new digging spade being the latest in practical tools for the garden.

Judging by the tweets and blog posts I've seen thus far, this company had a huge thumbs up from garden bloggers.

Adding some retro style to hanging planters

The most noticeable trend in the pot line was the profusion of hanging pots of all shapes and sizes. These from Stewart Garden reminded me of my student days when no room in hall was complete without a macramé hanger and a pot plant - usually a spider plant if memory serves.

Today this is tapping into the demand by those who have little or no access to a garden, have little interior space, yet want to have some greenery in their life. If that fancy includes succulents or cacti, then the entire range from Chive is well worth a look.

The rise of eco-friendly gardening?

Great to meet another member of the Dalefoot team in addition to Simon and Jane

It was great to meet Pauline from Dalefoot Composts; their products have saved my outdoor potted plants from my woeful watering forgetfulness this summer. Karen also spotted some nematodes on the Neudorff stand which last for up to six months and don't need to be kept in the fridge. This promises to be a game changer as far as non-chemical pest control is concerned.

Me with Daniel from Grow Natural

Karen also introduced me to Daniel from Grow Natural. They make natural fertilisers from agricultural waste and she reports excellent results from her trials this summer. I'm looking forward to trying out these products next year. Their process also produces biogas which feeds into the national grid. It's a neat solution to a waste problem, which took me back to my student studies.

One of the most heart-warming aspects of the show was the amount and varied range of eco-friendly products available. As I knew quite a few of the companies exhibiting already, their presence at GLEE seemed to be punching well above the weight of the availability I've seen in garden centres. I hope I'm wrong and much of what I saw becomes part of mainstream gardening.

Nice things to covet

The new Gold Leaf glove range

Here are the award winning new gloves from Gold Leaf. I usually hate being given gardening gloves, but these are fab. They're well designed and thought out - the poppy design represents Remembrance, the yellow rose Friendship, and the purple iris Wisdom. I loved meeting Kelly and Peter from this family-run company, who kindly gave me a pair of Tough Touch gloves to try. My hands and arms are relieved my latest bramble clearance was indeed thorn-free as promised.

Who doesn't love a Haws watering can?

At the show, I studiously ignored anything to do with that festival beginning with C, but ohhhhhhh, who wouldn't love a watering can the colour of Santa's coat? Haws watering cans are made in Brum too.

Stylish magnetic pots

Before GLEE I thought Magnetic pots????!!!! After seeing the display, I understand. These would make a neat solution for some of my home office stuff as well as providing a good home for an air plant or three. They're from Kalamitika.

Final thoughts

Quite a lot of products didn't fit easily into the Retail Lab key themes - some exhibitors remarked on this and it may have been of concern. It doesn't mean those products weren't worthy or there isn't a demand for them. It'll be interesting to see if the Retail Lab highlights different concepts at GLEE next year.

How much of the innovation I saw will actually hit the market? There was so much to see and only a certain amount of retail space available at each outlet. I'm concerned that quite a lot of what I liked may be hard to find... and when I asked them it's clear not all producers have their own online sales website (they rely on a nearest stockist listing instead). I wonder if there's an opportunity for an online garden retail 'supermarket' of some sort to offer the wider range of goods seen at GLEE?

Perhaps bloggers have a role in providing 'pester power' for those products they really like, alongside the the tried and trusted power of the retail buyers?

Do I want to go again? You bet. Next time I'd like to explore British companies more fully; the prominent Union flags proudly on display reached my brain far too late in the day. I want to discover more family-run companies, and more eco-friendly gardening options (not just wildlife). I also want to see the conversations I had about producing bioplastic plant pots alongside the coffee cups I saw, begin to bear fruit.

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Me, Andrew and Lou eating scrummy cakes on the Burgon and Ball stand

The great thing about having a bunch of garden bloggers attend such a huge event is there are more eyes and brains taking in what's on offer. Without Karen and Lou's help in particular, I would have missed lots of delightful things. Thanks also to Karen for the photos she took on the day.

Where we all feature something, that's probably a good indication it's a goer. Where we don't, then that's a reflection of our different approaches and tastes in gardening. Have a look at what caught my fellow bloggers' attention...

NB Mr Fothergill's also exhibited at GLEE - I have a more extensive overview of their new products here.

Where's the green wall stuff you promised at the start, I hear you ask? Well, that deserves a blog post all on its own...

My thanks to the organisers of GLEE, Hornby Whitefoot PR for the blogger invitation, and all the exhibitors I met for such an intensive and interesting day. See you next year, I hope.


  1. Sounds like such a wonderful event. We have the same issues here, however, with many wonderful products, especially organic fertilizers and soil amendments, not being available in mainstream stores. Our store shelves are still lined with the likes of Miracle-Gro. I'm hoping that changes as more and more people are educated on the virtues of improving the soil, not just feeding the plants.

    1. Hi Margaret, a couple of exhibitors remarked that many buyers make a bee-line for the 'big boys' and that it's hard for them to get a look in. That's what got me thinking about the possibilities of a different way of buying which isn't reliant on the retail buyer model. I suspect the reason why many of the producers rely on the stockists list model is that they feel having their own online shop would be too expensive and/or they don't have the expertise to support one. One brightness on the horizon is I've been talking to a small garden centre which has a sustainable approach to gardening. They'd decided not to go to GLEE, but were awaiting this blog post with a view to seeing what I pulled out in that line in order to reconsider that decision for next year. I think there's plenty more they would be interested in seeing and I also hope there is some headway being made on making bioplastic pots for plant supply by then. I learned the plastic when collected in food waste (hence the coffee cup substitution) breaks down by composting in 12 weeks, but would be robust enough to last for 2 years on a garden centre's shelf.

    2. In fairness, Dalefoot is available at Wyevale and PlantGrow at Homebase, so some of the products are getting into the mainstream. However whilst I have a Homebase in town, I'm nowhere near Wyevale. I need to check on Neudorff's availability - they've been huge fans of Veg Plotting in the past, but I can't remember seeing them anywhere other than trade shows.

  2. Wonderful round up of such a great day out. Thank you for your ever cheerful company. Can't wait to see the new products arrive on the shelves. Karen x

    1. Thanks Karen, especially for your photos which really add to this post :) Hope to see you again soon x

  3. a good day out...mind boggling!!

    1. My mind was most definitely boggled! I've only scratched the surface with this post gz!


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