The shameless plug

Bed of begonias
This bed would swallow a few hundred begonias – I’ve made it a bit smaller now!

I like summer bedding. A lot! And until 2012, I grew a few thousand bedding plants every year. One large bed was religiously planted with a bit over 400 begonias; 20 large wall planters each swallowed at least 10 plants, hanging baskets accounted for another 200 plants between them and then there were the miscellaneous tubs, smaller wall planters, beds and borders.

Small plants hardening off
Half an average year’s plants hardening off on the lawn.

Most of these were grown from little plugs. I know this is more expensive than growing from seed but I had neither the heated space nor the ability to reliably germinate loads of seeds at the time of year when they need to be sowed. The soil here is too heavy, and at sowing time usually too wet, to sow in situ and that’s forgetting resident cat’s love of curling up on any bit of bare soil.

Wall planters
Five wall planters = 50 plants.

But 2011 was a sort of change year. That was the year that a thousand impatiens walleriana succumbed to that thing that’s been killing them off. As the thing had previously been unknown in this area, this came as a surprise. What was more noticeable though was that it appeared first in one particular variety that came from a particular supplier. Plants of that variety were grouped around the garden and they all died first; but within days the circles of death had widened and every impatiens became transformed into a rather limp-wristed array of bare stems. The supplier disclaimed all responsibility. But I was not the only one to be affected. In other parts of the country, others who had bought the same variety from the same supplier found their gardens becoming infected despite being in areas where the disease hadn’t appeared before and, in many cases, being so isolated that it couldn’t have spread from neighbouring gardens.

Spanish planter
I particularly liked these salmon wallerianas. But no more. They died!

So 2012 saw two major changes. Firstly I stopped growing impatiens walleriana (the traditional bizzy lizzy) and started experimenting with the New Guinea varieties that were not affected. Secondly, I stopped buying plug plants from the company which had supplied what I (and others) now firmly believed to be the source of the infection.

I identified a few companies to try out on the basis that I would not put all my eggs into one basket – too many plants were involved! One supplied tiny plants in tiny cells with drainage holes so tiny that I couldn’t find anything small enough to poke the plugs out of their cells with. Another tended to deliver plants right at the end, or indeed a few weeks after the end, of their advertised window. This was a pain because it meant other plants had to remain in less than ideal conditions as I couldn’t plant up the baskets and containers. So I zeroed in on the third, which had provided consistently good plants when I expected them to arrive. And I don’t mean sometime in week commencing whatever; rather I could say they would arrive on a particular day between 10.30 and 11.00 am! Fantastic, reliable courier.

In 2013, I ordered almost everything from this company. Ouch! For whatever reason (always blamed on something or someone else), parcel after parcel arrived damaged, containing a general mess of loose compost and plant bits. The replacements were no better. But, fortunately, I discovered what was, for me, a new supplier – “The Canny Gardener”. Not only were the prices better but, even betterer, the company was able to supply what I needed despite what was now a very late order. So with the benefit of refunds from the first company, I ordered from the new one. And boy, was I pleased! Sturdy plants, well packed, nicely priced. That company got my winter bedding order and, again, I couldn’t fault anything. I was prepared for the “eggs in one basket” approach and feeling confident I wouldn’t regret it.

I looked forward eagerly to ordering my summer bedding plugs. Bugger! Company has ceased trading.

Young plants
Young New Guinea impatiens getting some sun.

So 2014 will entail another change or three. I’m going to fill more beds/borders with perennial plants rather than annual bedding and I’m concentrating my plug plant purchases on just a couple of varieties of begonia (which I find difficult to germinate). And I’m going to buy more plants as “ready to plant”. The local Wyevale Garden Centre is now a local locally-owned, non-Wyevale Garden Centre and has more competitively priced plants (I noticed last summer anyhow). When I work out the saved cost the growing medium, feeding etc., buying larger plants won’t be much more expensive. And a lot less hassle. Plus, I will have more space in a heated greenhouse to grow other plants from seed (which leads me to another plug – pardon the pun – for Higgledy Garden).

Goes to show how easy it is to find the silver lining in the cloud.