Wimbledon’s trademark petunias deliver best results yet

30 September 2019
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Wimbledon’s trademark petunias deliver best results yet

With input from ICL’s Professional Horticultural division, the trademark displays of petunias and permanent planting at The Championships, Wimbledon has never looked so good − according to Head Gardener, Martyn Falconer. 

Martyn Falconer - Head Gardner, Wimbledon

Back in the early 70s, ICL (then Fisons) entered into an agreement with The All England Lawn Tennis Club to supply a broad range of specialist fertilizers, plant protection products and wetting agents for its iconic grass courts and grounds.  Keeping the world’s elite tennis players happy, it falls to Neil Stubley - Wimbledon’s Head of Courts and Horticulture – and his team to ensure the 18 Championships courts and 20 practice courts look and perform at their best for the duration of The Championships. 

ICL’s historic association with this world class sporting venue strengthened in 2015 when the Professional Horticultural division began working with Martyn Falconer.  Appointed Head Gardener in 2014, when the grounds maintenance contract was taken back in-house, Martyn has 20 years’ experience of the 42-acre site, having previously worked for the landscape maintenance firm. Today he manages a dedicated team of eight full time staff.

“In the build up to The Championships, the workload suddenly peaks,” Martyn explains.  “At the end of May, the first of 19,000 plants for the ‘overlay’ start arriving on site.”

The white and sky blue petunias are delivered planted up in modules and hanging baskets.  The bedding and perennial plants are mostly supplied locally by Barnes Nurseries, at Wallington in Surrey.  Grown in Levington Advance, the plants are fed with Osmocote Exact High K with five to six month longevity.   To supplement the permanent planting during The Championships, Martyn orders specialist plants, such as hydrangeas, from the Netherlands. 

“The petunias are central to our displays at this time of year,” explains Martyn.  “In the past we felt they didn’t quite get through the season looking their best.  We wanted improved longevity, beyond the tournament so they would continue performing for our Club Members and the on-site tours.”

In 2015 Martyn was introduced to Andrew Wilson, technical manager for ICL’s Professional Horticulture division.  “One of the first things he did was test our mains water supply,” says Martyn. “The results were surprising with a high pH of 7.7 − 6.0 is optimum − and the bicarbonate level was 227mg/l  - ideally it should be around 80mg/l.”   

Andrew Wilson, ICL Technical Manager 

Explaining the implications Andrew says; “Many nutrients are less available at high pH.  Over time this watering regime will lead to an increase in growing media pH in longer-term crops, such as perennials and shrubs.

“While nitric acid can be used to neutralize bicarbonate, this requires a COSHH assessment as well as specialist pumping and sampling equipment.” 

Having input the results of the water analysis to AngelaWeb - ICL’s web based precision nutrition package - and taking in to account the nutrition supplied by the Osmocote used at the production nursery, he recommended supplementary feeding with Peters Excel Hard Water Finisher.

“This is an all round better solution for the AELTC to acidify the water,” says Andrew. “Reducing the bicarbonate levels by around 100ppm to 137ppm has improved nutrient availability and reduced the appearances of white deposits on leaves.” 

“Peter Excel Hard Water Finisher has encouraged compact growth and flowering of the bedding and perennial plants,” says Martyn.  “The petunias and perennials have never looked so good.”

With so many container and module grown plants, the team constantly battles to keep up with the watering.  While the modules high above the ground are generally fed by the permanent irrigation system, a mobile Bowser is also kept busy watering those that aren’t and the multitude of individual large containers around the site.

“To improve labour and water efficiency, Andrew recommended H2Gro wetting and water management agent,” says Martyn.   “We started adding the liquid formulation to the Bowser tank from mid-May last year.  Even though it was a record-breaking hot and dry year, the team saw a noticeable improvement in the water holding capabilities of the modules, as well as our permanent displays.”   

The permanent beds at the AELTC include the Walled Garden, a new public concession space that was previously Court 19.  Martyn’s planting design features a fragrant jasmine and white climbing hydrangeas.  Quintessentially English, it fits perfectly with Wimbledon’s strategy to create the atmosphere of ‘tennis in an English Garden’.

In 2019, completion of the work to install a retractable roof and air management system on No.1 Court greatly added to the team’s workload.  “We’ve created new beds, while others have disappeared or been resized,” says Martyn.  “The rose arbour, which was temporarily removed, has been carefully reinstated.  The outside wall of No.1 Court facing The Hill has two new living walls, either side of the outdoor screen, composed of more than 14,000 plants of 15 varieties.

“We’ve had to work closely with the contractor throughout the build to manage the associated landscaping issues to minimise disruption to Club Members and visitors during The Championships. 

“Whether planting out new borders and containers, or restocking existing ones, we now use Osmocote PrePlant as a topdress to provide season-long nutrition,” says Martyn.  “With a granular formulation, it’s simply spread over the surface and lightly incorporated.  In our permanent containers we use Humax multi purpose growing media and feed with Landscaper Pro 15g tables, these are simply pressed into the growing media.

“After initially testing the water, Andrew has brought our ornamentals nutrition together with a straightforward programme,” says Martyn.  “We’ve implemented all his recommendations - expert advice like this can make a big difference, not only in regard to plant nutrition but water management too.  

“All in all, our displays have never looked so good.  I feel you can never know it all, there is no harm in discussing issues with specialists.   ICL had worked closely with Neil for many years – we’re now using their expertise on the ornamentals side and it makes perfect sense.”