Acres of quality control

September 2nd, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula and more at the Mr Fothergill's Trials - Quality COntrolEvery year, at the Mr Fothergill’s HQ in Suffolk, Trials Manager Brian Talman grows a row of every seed-raised plant in the Mr Fothergill’s catalogue and quite a few other plants as well. Here’s why.

In the nineteenth century, many of the flower and veg seed companies not only sold seed to gardeners but collected the seed from plants in their own fields. These days, growing crops of seed is a specialised business and seed crops of different plants are grown in appropriate climates all over the world by growers who focus on that specialised skill. The highest quality sweet pea seed, for example, is grown in New Zealand.

So the most important reason for growing all those rows of flowers and veg is to make doubly sure that the right variety has gone into the right packet and that the seed that you and I sow is exactly what it’s supposed to be.

In some cases, seed of the same variety is available from different sources so in that case rows of the same variety from the various different sources are grown side by side so that the quality can be assessed and related to the price the grower is charging.

The plants are grown hard, not pampered in the way that you and I look after them in our own gardens. This year, plants were watered when the seeds sown or the tiny young plants planted – and once more. That’s it. They’re weeded but not dead-headed or sprayed.

I’ve visited a couple of times this year and when I was there on Tuesday one of those comparisons between different suppliers of the same variety stood out. There were three rows of Rudbeckia ‘Rustic Dwarfs’ (below), a popular and easy to grow blend of yellow, gold, terracotta and mahogany shades with some attractive bicolours.

In one row, the plants were not only too tall but only about three colours were represented and the petals drooped instead of radiating out horizontally. Another was shorter but uneven in height and with a heavy dose of darker mahogany and chestnut shades. In between was the best of the three: a good variety of colours, with no two plants the same, good flower shape and a consistent height of about 45cm. And it would never been clear which was the best stock of Rudbeckia ‘Rustic Dwarfs’ if all three had not been grown side by side.

Three different stocks of Rudbeckia 'Rustic Dwarfs' - Quality Control

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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