If you watched the Great British Garden Revival last night then you will have seen Christine Walkden’s passion for ornamental bedding plants and her campaign for their revival. The magnificent displays of Waddesdon Manor and much-loved seaside displays at Eastbourne have descended from the Victorian’s love of the art of ornamental bedding. “Eye catching displays were the gardening bling of yesteryears”, Christine enthused.
As part of Christine’s Revival of Ornamental Bedding, she visited Thompson & Morgan’s trial grounds and shared her passion with Michael Perry, new product development manager.
Thompson & Morgan’s trial grounds are home to over 500 new types of plants. The trial grounds are used to grow the company’s products to ensure that they are true to type, and to compare new varieties with older, existing ones to see if they are indeed an improvement.
Despite many new varieties being available, Thompson & Morgan still sees many traditional plants being popular with customers. As Michael says, “people recognise the names and know that they will work in their gardens, but we really want people to move towards newer varieties that perhaps perform better in gardens or have better disease resistance.”
Michael suggests that Margiold ‘Jesters Mixed’ is a great example of this: “It is so much bigger than the traditional one, you get more plant for your money. It stops the weeds coming through, so it is a natural weed suppressant. Also it mulches the ground, so you will need to water your soil a lot less as you are covering the ground naturally. You have not got the bare soil that you have got to keep on maintaining all of the time.”
A few years ago the UK’s best selling annual bedding plant, the busy lizzie, was struck down and destroyed by an epidemic. The disease was ‘downy mildew’ which is an airborne disease and most of the common walleriana busy lizzies that we’ve known for years were susceptible to it. It was so bad that the stalwart of British bedding that sold almost 35m plants a year has now been removed from garden centres nationwide. As Michael Perry says, “the plants literally melted and were unrecoverable, there is no treatment for it at the moment, what you need to do is grow resistant varieties.”
Through breeding work, T&M has developed Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’, which has completely different genetics to the usual busy lizzies. It has been bred on so that it is bigger and better and more resilient to all sorts of weather conditions, hot, dry wet or cold. “It really is almost the super busy lizzie. Traditional busy lizzies love shade, but ‘Divine’ loves both sun and shade, making it even more versatile”, according to Michael.
There are lots of plants that can be used to create an ornamental display and Thompson & Morgan is always cultivating new varieties that are cheaper and easier to grow.
Here’s an excerpt from the show:
Here are Michael’s bedding ‘movers and shakers’
The traditional bedding begonia semperflorens ‘Organdy’ has blooms that never fully open, growth is quite stunted and plants are never weather proof. However, begonia ‘Lotto’ delivers much bigger plants, has more landscape-style growth, big clear flowers, leaves like water lily pads and is perfect for any weather.
Antirrhinum vs Penstemon
Annual antirrhinums die down to the ground every year. The traditional snapdragons are lovely and pretty, but they do not flower for long. A good alternative is a perennial hardy penstemon, such as ‘Wedding Bells’, which flowers for a staggering 5-6 months. This variety is also really tough and resilient in the garden.
Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, also known as Peruvian lily, flowers for 5-6 months and hosts lovely bronze foliage. The plants are compact with an upright habit, yet still producing stems which are a good length for cutting.
Gerberas are very exciting, and brand new breeding brings us gerbera ‘Sweet Collection’. Growing gerberas outside was unthinkable 10 years ago, yet modern breeding has enabled varieties like this to be grown in the border all year round. This variety is hardy down to -10C and the plants will come back every year with lovely big, florist quality, daisy-like blooms, which are twice the size of other hardy gerbera flowers.
A revival really is taking place, bedding is changing and your choices are much wider than they used to be. There is no limit to what you can do with ornamental bedding.
L-R: Begonia ‘Lotto’ Mixed, oenstemon ‘Wedding Bells’, alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, gerbera ‘Sweet Collection’