On a recent visit to their trials grounds based near Newton Abbott in Devon I saw firsthand just how much time and effort they invest in developing and maintaining stock plants that will consistently supply quality seed and young plants to their customers.
This work is also carried out at locations around the world in order to satisfy the global demand for Suttons products; at any one time there may be over a hundred new varieties being trialled.
The trials ground staff continually monitor every aspect of plants growth, from the physical size and structure, the resistance to pests and diseases and any response to different fertiliser applications and most importantly the flower and foliage colours for ornamental varieties and the taste of the edible crops.
The Suttons range now includes many edible crops with high visual impact so staff must be extra vigilant with the selection and quality control procedures to ensure the correct strain of plants go forward into the next stage of production.
With an increase in the grow- your- own crops in containers, the Suttons staff have set up trials to establish optimum pot sizes and the composts used to achieve good harvesting with specific plant groups.
Peter Morton, Suttons Vegetable Production Manager showed me groups of different crops of edible plants being trial grown in compatible growing conditions. These plants were referred to as ‘sister’ plants on the trials ground.
The various groups had to satisfy different criteria such as growing in containers on a window sill or patio container plus their main harvesting periods had to be at a similar time and the produce used for similar culinary purposes.
To see the diverse range of plants growing in the glasshouses and polytunnels is impressive. A complete surprise to me was the heavenly scented Begonia ‘Parisienne’, as was the sweet tasting Pepper ‘Sweet Sunshine’ that looked like a chilli, or was it the other way around! Keep an eye out for this in the Suttons catalogue; it has real wow factor in more ways than one.
Another impressive growing trial taking place was being carried out with grafted tomato plants.
Peter Morton explained that many different root stocks and scions were being used to establish the optimum combinations for growing and harvesting in containers. When the results of this trial are evaluated and new plants become available from Suttons it will be great news for all of us who like fresh home grown tomatoes.
The Trials Ground
The function of the trial grounds are not only to carry out this essential work but also provide an interesting destination to many hundreds of people who visit in groups from horticultural and gardening groups.
The visitors are given an insight into this important work when they tour the site. They also see well known plants and new varieties growing in ‘real ‘conditions and how they respond to climatic and geographical conditions.
During my visit I saw examples of plants that had not performed well. Trials Ground Manager Toby Connabeer explained to me that all plants go through a rigorous evaluation process to see if they come up to the standards demanded by Suttons before they can be put into production.
Suttons Seeds are introducing an exciting new range of edible crops in 2013. The Gardening Times.com will be growing a selection of these at Blackwood garden and following the story as gardeners around the country try them out. We will be there to show you their progress through the growing season.
My thanks to the trials ground team for a most interesting visit.