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.
First ImpressionsAfter 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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 thoughtsQuite 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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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...
- Karen Gimson - What's new for gardeners
- Lou Nicholls - Six of the best from #glee17
- The Blackberry Garden - More amazing things under one roof...
- The Middle-sized Garden - 2018 Garden Trends
- Thomas Stone - Full of Glee
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...