In January of last year, I was in Essen, Germany, attending the International Plant Fair, the world’s largest horticultural show, and what an eye-opener! From a horticultural and design perspective, it was a game changer. Europe has a population of over 700 million people, and many have a passion for plants and flowers, but even so, to see how far ahead they have surged was remarkable.
The first noticeable trend was the many new varieties, colours and combinations of tropical plants, such as the fabulous new tradescantias. The very tightly compacted white, green and pink T. ‘Nanouk’ was particularly unusual. It would be ideal used as a windowsill novelty or in summer as an outdoor hanging basket stunner. All our typically green crinkled peperomias were featured in unusual colours, such as the almost-black P. ‘Red Lion’ or the richly pinkish-brown P. ‘Quito.’ These, and so many others, offered great opportunities for some innovative combination planters.
The strong interest in succulents was enhanced by the many varieties of easy-to-grow trailing rhipsalis. There were so many species displayed in baskets and spilling over tall containers, they looked fabulous. Well-suited to today’s stark, clean lines, they will provide a new modern look for indoor decors.
I seldom saw design-conscious exhibitors display a tropical plant in an ordinary plastic pot. The most frequently used container was a white or black ceramic pot that complemented the style and colour of the plant. Glass containers that showed the soil and the roots, as well as the foliage and flowers, were also widely utilized. Talk about transparency! It was not just about the plant; it was always about the presentation of value adding.
Bulbs, too, were featured very differently. The focus was as much on the bulb itself as it was on the foliage and the flowers. The bulbs were not planted in the ground, but rather grown on top of the soil for a more natural and organic look. It was a beautiful concept.
Taking it one step further, larger bulbs were also waxed and painted. At Christmas, painted amaryllis bulbs are not uncommon, but in Europe they were doing the same with hyacinth bulbs. Seeing them planted in glass was truly remarkable.
Their floral designs were also over the top, but I noted two distinct trends. The importance of a single flower was huge. I particularly enjoyed a presentation of vases that were held together in narrow containers and featured one flower stem per vase. The other trend was mixed bouquets of everything you could imagine blooming at any time of the year. It was refreshingly natural and quite simple.
The new roses and ranunculus were bred to have the traditional old-fashioned garden appeal, but with a difference—green centres, called “green islands.” They looked stunning.
In European small space gardens and on patios, trees and shrubs are used like flowering plants. Boxwood, for example, would never be seen in a nursery pot, but rather in a beautiful container and pruned as a ball, a narrow pyramid or as some other unique form. New varieties of both male and female skimmias were not for the garden, but rather the patio. This is true of so many trees and shrubs that we often take for granted.
Here in North America, we have a long way to go to catch up with both European gardeners and growers. Fortunately, they have certainly opened some doors for us.