It's the instantly recognisable line from Powell and Pressburger's superb film, A Matter of Life and Death. Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) arrives on Earth and watches with delight as the rose in his lapel turns from the grey tones of Heaven to a delicate, earthly pink.
And I knew exactly how he felt when, last Friday, I visited Ball Colegrave at the invitation of Plant Me Now. This is the season when their grounds (they're one of the largest developers and distributors of bedding plants and perennials) are saturated with colour. The air vibrates with it.
Ball Colegrave themselves only sell to commercial growers, and Plant Me Now source a number of their plants from them, joining the throng of growers at the annual trade days to decide which fuchsia, nemesia, polyanthus or petunia is most likely to appeal to their customers.
"We set ourselves apart from other 'plants through the post' companies," says Plant Me Now's Head of eCommerce, Tim Milward, "by offering 'ready to plant'." This means that what they sell is grown on by them to greater maturity, so that the customer doesn't have to spend time and find space to nurture tiny plug plants early in the season.
With around twenty years in horticulture (some spent as a consultant for Gardeners' World), Tim's gained a good idea of what new plants and products are likely to appeal.
Now, I might as well admit it - I haven't really bought bedding plants up to now. Nevertheless, I found myself swept up in his 'kid in a sweetie shop' enthusiasm for the vast array of colours and textures and, let's face it, there was lots to get excited about.
A Tour Around Ball Colegrave
The first view to hit you is the experimental area - rows and rows of pots. The waves of colour and texture are spell-binding, but they're not for now and I'll tell you a bit more about them in a future post.
Further on, you find displays of petunias, hanging baskets of tomatoes, benches of zonal geraniums, banks of osteospermum. And one of my favourites, nemesia.
And then you enter the greenhouses packed with the new varieties that will be available in 2015. Here's a brief flypast:
Oenothera Gold Dream
One plant that is very much on the ascendancy is Calibrachoa, which first burst on to the market under the brand name, Million Bells. Rather fascinatingly described as "self-cleaning", it's a mini-petunia that doesn't need deadheading as it jettisons its spent blooms all by itself. The Cabaret series have improved colours, and signage explained that Rose and Pink have improved habits (one can only imagine what filthy little beasts they were before). I can't think that these could be any more floriferous:
Making a big splash, this next is one that Tim tipped as popular for next year:
No, probably not something you'll see in the designer gardens at Chelsea, but "The large, hedge marigolds are coming back. It'll be really popular in people's gardens," says Tim.
I'm increasingly attracted to big, blowsy flowers, but there was one that Tim and I didn't agree on. Still, he can't always get it right. Tim really likes the sturdy-looking Geranium Horizon.
The new salmon tint on this one certainly wasn't for me. "OK, I'm rubbish," he smiled.
One we most certainly did agree on is this stunning little star. Short, compact, free-flowering, for hot, dry conditions. I predict this might appear rather a lot next year.
Behind the Scenes at Plant Me Now
Plant Me Now was established ten years ago. The challenge was to accustom people to buying plants later in the season, to plant immediately, rather than buying tiny plugs early to grow them on. It's taken time but now the company grows a rather staggering hundred million plants a year.
Growing and shipping so many plants requires a great deal of thought and planning. Packaging, as you can imagine for an online company, is of primary importance. "We sent boxes out every day for a fortnight," says Tim, "when we were trialling packaging for hanging baskets." The recipient reported back and, eventually, they found one that didn't arrive upside-down with the soil spilling out. (For more on Plant Me Now's packaging, Helen Johnstone gives feedback at The Patient Gardener.)
Some perennials are sold as starter plants and sent out as 5cm plugs from March onwards. How do they make sure they'll flower in the first year? Overwinter them with an artificial dose of frost in the greenhouses.
And we can all imagine the problems of transporting free-draining potting compost. A handy glue plug binds the compost, protecting the roots and helping to retain moisture and make transportation much less messy.
It's this sort of detail that makes, for me, the work that goes on behind the scenes every bit as fascinating as the flowers they sell.
So, I have to admit that I've rather changed my mind on bedding plants. If you, like me, had a dark feeling that using them can't be counted as proper gardening, I'd say that what they do is allow you to play with texture, colour and plant combinations in a way that's normally only possible if you have loads of space
to sow and grow things on. Looking round Ball Colegrave was like being shown a great big paintbox, and Plant Me Now offers the chance to splash the colours on your canvas.
Finally, what's a view of up-and-coming flowers without a few predictions? Here are the trends that Tim has spotted from his contact with Plant Me Now customers:
- Dahlias are going to be really big over the next few years.
- Hedge marigolds (see above).
- Calibrachea - so easy that there'll be plenty more of it.
- Coleus are coming back in.
- Majestic Begonias (which were awarded Best Annual at the Horticultural Trades Association 2014 National Plant Show) will be very popular.
Just remember, you heard it here first!
For another take on the day, keep an eye on Catherine Howard.