A visit to the Ball Colegrave Trial Grounds

Ball Colegrave are the UKs largest wholesale suppliers of seed and plants to commercial growers and local authorities.  They specialise in seed and live plant/plug/bare root sales.  Every year they have a series of Open Days for the trade and also a public Open Day.  I was really pleased I was able to visit on one of the open days.
The trial grounds are laid out so you can see the plants to their best advantage.  They are displayed so that the trade can see what they will look like in situ and also have ideas for how to present and sell them.  It has to be remembered that these plants are destined to be marketed next year.  Also, of course, they will not be on sale everywhere, it will depend where your local retailer buys its plants from.

Whilst it was quite grey when I arrived at the trial grounds, once the sun came out so did the bees and butterflies.  Knowing that you have good plants is one thing, knowing that they attract wildlife makes them even better.
 This has to be one of my favourite plants of the day, Celosia 'Dragon's Breath' which grows to have dark red foliage and a flame red plume of flowers.  This would look brilliant in a bedding display and I also think it would work well in an exotic garden.  I will be looking for some to go into my exotic border and actually they might turn up in some containers as well.

The plants were also displayed in the huge greenhouses and also in small staged areas so you could see how they would look in use.
 There are also the outdoor trial beds.  Rows and rows of brilliantly growing plants.
 Well not all brilliantly growing, there are many experimental plants also being trialled and as you would expect not all trials go well.  So these plants will not get through to be marketed as clearly they are just not coping with living outdoors.  I was far happier seeing that some plants fail then if I had only seen perfection, plants are not perfect and some behave better than others.
Similarly these antirrhinums that were growing a little askew were good to see. I love tall snapdragons and they do sometimes wander a little sideways, to know that these were not being corrected and seen in all their wonky glory was heartening.

Overwhelmingly the trial grounds are row upon row of incredibly healthy and brilliantly performing plants.  All growing outside just the way we the customers will grow them.

There are themed selections of plants based on different colourways.  You could look at them on the indoor displays and then see how they perform outside.  Personally I felt I could appreciate them more when I saw them outside in situ.  I liked them in the fixed displays, but seeing them as part of an actual planting scheme made me understand more how they could be used.  Which is of course, the point.  By showing the trade how these plants can be used Ball Colegrave are helping them be displayed to their best advantage and, (and this is an important and), know how they will perform in real conditions.

This is the crux of the matter, it is not in Ball Colegrave's interests to sell plants that will not perform when they reach our gardens.  We will not make return purchases from our local retailer if the plants die.  We also will not buy the plants if we cannot understand how to plant and care for them.  I believe in buying plants from people who care about them.  What actually matters is that they sell me a good product that they understand and will make sure is in the best possible state in which to start growing.
One of the things that made me smile most in the day was this cheeky heuchara growing out of a wall.  It is not part of a display and clearly should not be there, but I always love a plant that survives no matter what.

One of the features of the day was to take a blue flag and select the product that you liked the best.  This has an important function, not only can Ball Colegrave see which plants are catching the eye of trade customers, they can also see what catches the eye of the public.  When your plants are destined to be sold on garden centre shelves it is useful to know what is eye-catching to the prime market.
So here is my blue flag, inserted into a basket of 'Trendsetter Breezy Blues', one of the ready-mixed group of plants that they sell to be potted up into containers and baskets.  This one very much caught my eye.

I have to thank Stuart Lowen from Ball Colegrave for such a lovely day.  It was really interesting to see what the trends for next year will be and get the heads up on what will be out there to buy.  These are good quality plants and seeds, grown with love, care and knowledge.


  1. I did ask them why those small Dianthus looked dead/rough and was told that they were recently transplanted, then forgotten to be watered.

    I saw some lovely experimental stuff there, hope to see it in the shops one day.

    1. I'm looking forward to finding some of the plants / I might now be a hanging basket convert

  2. Dear Alison
    I share your love of a plant which grows no matter what. I had a hydrangea which I had cut down to soil level in its pot and intended to throw out. It has started growing again with lovely healthy leaves, so I couldn't throw it out, as it obviously does want to survive, so it gets a stay of execution...
    Best wishes

    1. Dear Ellie

      Certainly sounds like it's worth giving it a chance - good luck.


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