But how did I decide which were the Top Ten, and in what order? Well, I asked the Head of Buying at the foremost plant centre in the country, at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey, to tell me what his best sellers were in the previous year – that seemed a pretty good guide.
Well, I’ll again be lecturing on the same subject later this year so I asked him to give me his most recent figures and today I’ll let you into the secret. First with the best selling genera, and next time with the best selling individual varieties. So here goes. American readers will notice which two plants are not in the Top Ten:
10 New at Number Ten – Dianthus. Not even in the Top Twenty three years ago, and with no individual varieties in the top twenty five, I suspect that the recent flood of prolific dwarf types from Whetman Pinks accounts for this increase in popularity.
9 Same position as last year – Echinacea. The appeal of all the new colours and flower forms is balanced by the fact that many are proving more difficult to get through the winter than we’d like.
8 Down one place – Penstemon. Slipping from seventh to eighth place, but with a pretty small drop in actual sales, penstemon remain popular for their long season of dependable colour.
7 In from nowhere – Salvia. Mysteriously absent from even the Top Twenty last time, this is a case where enthusiastic articles in The Garden, the members’ magazine for the RHS, may have encouraged demand.
6 Down from Number Three this year – Euphorbia. I suspect that this drop may be the result of heavy promotion of new variegated varieties not being matched by their quality and longevity in the garden.
5 Same as last year – Iris. The vast variety of types allows changes in trends to be picked up by one kind of iris as another becomes less fashionable.
4 Roaring up the charts – Agapanthus. Our changing climate (allowing gardeners in more parts of the country to grow more varieties), the increasing popularity of growing perennials in containers and some very active specialist nurseries all helped boost enthusiasm for agapanthus.
3 Down one place – Helleborus. A small drop in sales numbers, but it’s more the huge rise in sales of the new Number Two plant the pushes them lower.
2 Almost 40% up in sales – Heuchera. Placed fourth three years ago, the continuing stream of good new varieties, with two in the top ten of individual best sellers, solidifies enthusiasm for these superb foliage and flowering plants.
1 And still at Number One of the best selling perennials, but only just – Geranium. The lead has shrunk so much that Geranium is now only 0.22% ahead of Heuchera while three years ago it as 13% ahead of Helleborus. But their versatility, easygoing nature, and the introduction of good new varieties keep them at the top.
And that's right, North American readers - no Hosta and no Hemerocallis.
Next time I’ll look at the best selling individual perennial varieties… There’s some surprises there to.
Thank you to Malcolm Berry, Head of Buying at the RHS Plant Centres at Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and Hyde Hall in Essex, for getting these fascinating figures together for me.