I recently wrote about the poor germination from some of our peppers. I contacted one of the seed merchants who had found a problem with one of the varieties and sent replacements. This has come too late, though, for a further sowing. New seed from a different supplier sown in the second batch has germinated well, but that still left our chilli and sweet pepper collection rather lacking this year. I usually grow 44 chillies, to fill our smallest glasshouse through the summer, and 22 or so sweet peppers, plus spares. We were short by about one third of what we needed so had to resort to buying young plants instead.
The local garden centres are not much help as they stock very few varieties, and of those they do stock, there are even fewer that I am interested in growing. It is most often a poor reflection on the diversity of varieties that are available. I had a quick look around the web to see what could be bought mail order, but I was a little concerned about when they might arrive, so in the end we opted to visit Simpson’s Seeds and Plants, www.simpsonsseeds.co.uk, at Horningsham, near the Longleat estate, and pick up some plants in person. We have previously bought seeds from them, both at the Chilli Fiesta at West Dean and online, but this was the first time we have visited the nursery. None of our problem seeds this year came from them. They provide a wide range of vegetable seeds and plants, but in particular an interesting selection of chillies, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.
Simpson’s is more of a specialist nursery rather than the more usual sort of garden centre. Over the years, garden centres have morphed into quite a different sort of business than they used to be, with less emphasis on providing a great range of plants and specialist knowledge and more on the cafe and diverse ancillary products that, presumably, bring in the general public. Although I enjoy wandering around garden centres, I do sometimes find the experience a little disappointing. You will not find a cafe or any unrelated nonsense at Simpson’s, just seeds and plants and a few related bits and bobs. Based in an old walled garden that used to be the kitchen garden for the Longleat estate, the environment is a little bit ramshackle, although I suspect it may look better later in the year. On the other hand, it is great to see one of these walled gardens being used – whilst the kitchen gardens of old are not economical today, with their armies of gardeners, I cannot understand why they were not put to alternative purposes or alternative cultivation regimes rather than being left to become derelict and overgrown. With their beautiful walls and their great history their loss is very sad indeed.
I was very happy with the plants we found, and came away with enough chillies and sweet peppers to make up for our poor germination. I was a little concerned to make sure we visited in plenty of time, but in fact it might have been better to leave it a couple of weeks as many varieties were still being potted up. However, they were very happy to pot up some for me while we browsed through the other stock. There were three that were still rather small plugs and they were not prepared to sell them, but they did give us the plugs for free, which I potted up when we got home. I think they will take off over the next couple of weeks. I found the most important varieties that I was looking for and made up the rest with a few that I have not tried before but are sorts I am very happy to be growing this year. They are at various stages of growth from the small plugs to quite well developed young plants, and I considered the quality of the plants – not just the peppers that we bought, but also other vegetable plants on display – to be very good. Having recently seen some rather poor specimens at a couple of garden centres, I was very happy with our purchase. We bought 20 plants for £30, plus the three free plugs, so I think that was also good value, especially for what are, for the most part, unusual varieties.
Garden centres serve a useful purpose and I would happily spend a day wandering around several of the local offerings. However, for certain expert knowledge and a wider range of varieties, one needs sometimes to look a little further afield and supporting specialist suppliers is important for maintaining the availability of so many interesting and delicious varieties. In some areas, neither the typical garden centre nor the mainstream seed merchants offer such a selection of varieties. With some great plants and excellent service, I know where to come if I ever have such a germination problem again.