Four Oaks Preview: Bright and beautiful

Visitors to this year's event will be spoilt for choice when it comes to the vibrant new plants on show, says Kris Collins.

Plant material has always been a strong focus at Four Oaks, because it is what keeps bringing back most exhibitors and visitors each year. For growers and retailers looking for new lines it is also the timing of the show that makes it so popular for buying and selling plants.

Flower seed manager Stuart Donders of Essex-based Moles Seeds echoes the opinion of many plant exhibitors at the event, saying the show is the main trade event for his business and its customer base: "Four Oaks is the major UK show of the year for suppliers like us. More of our customers and potential customers come to this event than to any other we exhibit at. It is at the time of year when people can get away from the nursery to see what's available."

With companies vying for visitor attention, Donders recognises the importance of having something new to show the customer, and this is perhaps what drives the show forward year-on-year. He also says it is not just about having the latest plant but also having a strong marketing advantage and point of difference to make a product stand out. Looking to create high retailer interest in 2008/09, Moles will be featuring a new range of musically themed Sweet Pea mixes named 'The Blues', 'Cadenza' 'Jazz' and 'Tango'. These distinctly scented mixes have been selected following performance trials at the company headquarters near Colchester. Donders says they are suited to volume plant sales and the company has developed a range of eye-catching labels to help ensure that.

New range

Thompson & Morgan will be launching its direct-to-grower range for 2008/09 including introductions from its own breeding programme such as Antirrhinum 'Bronze Dragon', Dahlia 'Black Beauty' and Geum 'Sunrise'. It has doubled the range of young plants offered in its popular 144 plug size and added more than 50 new seeds to the range. Professional grower manager Nigel Judd says the company is also happy to quote competitive prices for perennial plug production of non-catalogue varieties.

Exhibiting for the first time at Four Oaks, A Hill & Sons will be showcasing a variety of high-quality shrubs, conifers, hedging and trees - including Air-Pot-grown products. The company specialises in supply to landscapers, local authorities and landscape architects. It has recently expanded its range of varieties considerably using an air-pruning technique, which the company says is stimulating vigorous, healthy root systems and producing outstanding results. Air-Pot- grown products have a built-in watering aid, are light and easy to handle, and establish rapidly in their new environment. The pots will be available to growers at the show from the Caledonian Tree Company.

The Jelitto Perennial Seeds 2008 catalogue has more than 3,000 varieties of plants listed, of which nearly 100 are new. These include more colours in the fast-selling, easy-to-grow Salvia Ballet series, which now covers bright pink, white, violet and dark pink. These join other Jelitto introductions such as Knautia 'Mars Midget', Helenium 'Tip Top', Penstemon 'Blue Buckle', Heliopsis 'Summer Nights', Sedum 'Emperor's Wave' and a host of others.

Following the success of its perennial plant labels this year, the Gedney Bulb Company will be launching a range of alpine labels. They all have colour headers that match the flower colour, making it easier for customers to choose their plants when planning their garden. They can also make an eye-catching display in the garden centre.

Fairweather's returns to the show following a four-year break and managing director Patrick Fairweather says the firm has lots to talk about. The Hampshire nursery has traditionally placed a heavy focus on lavender supply - previously accounting for 40 per cent of stock - but Fairweather notes Agapanthus as an increasingly important crop and will be trialling varieties in 2009. Ready for next year is a host of perennials including Coreopsis 'Golden Pom Pom', a compact and very free-flowering form producing masses of double, frilly, yellow flowers from June through summer.

Whetman Pinks will be using the exhibition to reveal the company's new look. The new branding has been designed to communicate the qualities of Dianthus pinks to a younger generation of growers and garden lovers.

Managing director Carolyn Whetman will be showing several new varieties this year including the Early Bird collection, a series of five early-flowering dwarf pinks providing scented, flowering plants from late February/early March onwards. They are suitable for production as a flowering pot plant for early autumn sales making an alternative container plant to pansies and polyanthus.

Delamore will launch more than 170 varieties at the show, highlighting its expanded P9 Perennials range and open-ground plants now running alongside Clematis, Phormium, Cordyline, grasses and "jumbo" shrub plugs. Visitors will also see a new-look catalogue for the Wisbech-based company, incorporating all new products in an easy-to-use section with much bigger pictures than the previous catalogue and a user-friendly layout.

New products to the range, which incoporates five hardy fuchsias, include the exotic-looking F. 'Denticulata'. Antirrhinum Anthirodora will come in three colours and is bred to be stronger and more scented than its seed-raised counterparts. Verbena 'Soft Pink' and 'Pink' from the Velox series are characteristic of Verbena but stronger and display large, upward-facing flowerheads. Also included this year is Pansy Friolina 'Blue and Gold', an exclusive for Delamore and a striking introduction to the series.

Ball Colegrave is aiming to create a stir when it launches what it says are some of the most innovative products to enter the ornamental bedding industry. It believes all eyes will be on its introductions within the Fantastic Foliage range, including Coleus 'Dark Chocolate', a burgundy-brown variety, developed to fit into the standard bedding production and pot plant market. The firm will also be showing new colours in its award-winning Pansy Matrix range.

For the first time at the show, Ball Colegrave will be joined by Darwin Plants, having combined their expertise in perennials and capabilities in research and production to give growers better access to perennials and shrubs in the UK. They will be highlighting their ranges of bare-root, plug and liners under the Darwin Plants, Darwin PlantSpotters and Lasting Beauty brands.

Hallmark Plants of Scunthorpe is building on its distributor relationship with Vivai Palandri with the launch of www.palandriuk.co.uk to promote the plants it sources from the Tuscany-based supplier. The supplier is keen to build its UK business with support from Hallmark. Hallmark staff will be at the show highlighting the Palandri range and its complete plant procurement service for landscapers and designers using a network of nationwide nurseries.

Overseas support

A new Dutch lorry display will join the show this year, making a total of eight mobile displays around the perimeter of the show. GC Stolwijk & Co is a wholesale nursery with a large production unit (one million containers) of plants, shrubs, trees, conifers and climbing plants. In spring and autumn, it delivers to garden centres and nurseries around the UK on a weekly basis.

The company offers a door-to-door delivery service by its own specialist transport. It joins the likes of regular exhibitor Green World Plants, which returns with a large selection of quality hardy nursery stock and its range of topiary Buxus in various forms.

Boskoop-based Rijnbeek works with growers worldwide to source introductions for its catalogue. A new plant of note at this year's show was sourced exclusively from US firm ItSaul Plants. Echinacea 'Crazy Pink' is a richly coloured easy-grow option available this season in liner and bare-root options.

Following a successful 2007 launch elsewhere on the Continent, Belgium-based Decock this year brings Pelargonium 'Candy Flower' to the UK. The cultivar is the result of crossbreeding between P. grandiflorum and P. crispum, combining the positive characteristics of both varieties and offering a wide range of colours.

Linea Verde of Den Haag, the Netherlands, returns to Four Oaks in 2008 after a year away and will be exhibiting a variety of plant material sourced from around Europe for supply to garden centres, wholesale nurseries, retail nurseries and cash and carry operations.

INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW

A host of new plants will be featured at the event. Across the following four pages we list some of those introductions expected to take centre stage on stands across the site.

- Begonia Million Kisses 'Elegance', Ball Colegrave, Oxfordshire A semi-trailing form with soft pink and white flowers that smother the plant. Suits containers and 11-13cm pot production.

- Pansy Matrix 'Midnight Glow', Ball Colegrave, Oxfordshire One of a host of new colours and themed mixes that will be on show from the easy-to-grow, large-flowered series.

- Calibrachoa Noa 'Mega Pink', Delamore, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire A vigorous trailing performer with large early blooms. Suits hanging baskets and 10-13cm pot production.

- Geranium Sophia, Delamore, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire This compact variety creates a uniform mound form with clean pink flowers for use in hanging baskets, containers and beds.

- Rhododendron 'Lee's Dark Purple', Flor-Coop, Lago Maggiore, Nebuino, Italy A hybrid variety with large flowers. Production around Lake Maggiore assures the perfect climate for growing these plants. Large specimens are available.

- Azalea japonica 'Palestrina', Flor-Coop, Lago Maggiore, Nebuino, Italy One of the purest white forms, growing to approximately 1m high. Suitable for patio and balcony containers, as well as for use in indoor displays.

- Pelargonium Candy Flower, Decock, Belgium Candy Flower is the result of crossbreeding between Pelargonium grandiflorum and P. crispum and combines the positive characteristics of both varieties. There are five different colours to choose from: 'Bright Red', 'Dark Red', 'Bicolor', 'Violet' and 'Pink with Eye'.

- Echinacea 'Crazy Pink', Rijnbeek, Boskoop, the Netherlands An ususal compact form with floriforous, rich pink blooms. Developed in the US, with Plant Breeders' Rights held by Rijnbeek.

- Hibiscus syriacus Azzurri, Doorst, via Boweco, Belgium Azzurri is the first blue-blooming Hibiscus, without seed production, so the plant grows (up to 3m) and blooms unrestrained until the end of September.

- Rosa Archimedes, Doorst, via Boweco, Belgium A warm-red rose with a white heart and prominent yellow stamens. Blooms abundant from June until the end of September. The plant forms a good-growing, branching shrub of about 60cm high. Suitable for ground cover.

- Red Fox Petunia Potunia series, Dummen, Rheinberg, Germany The Potunia series has a round mounding habit and huge flowers, which suits it to pot production or hanging baskets. Two vibrant colours are introduced to enhance this successful series: Potunia 'Lobster' and Potunia 'Dark Red'.

- Red Fox Calibrachoa Aloha series, Dummen, Rheinberg, Germany Varieties designated with "Tiki" display a dark red centre and are early to flower. The semi-upright growth makes the series suitable for combination or monoculture plantings. In 2009 look for new spectacular colours that will be added to this series: Aloha 'Hot Orange', Aloha 'Tiki Soft Pink', Aloha 'Tiki Hot Pink' and Aloha 'Neon 09'.

- Campanula Jenny, Fairweather's, Beaulieu, Hampshire A low-growing perennial form with large cup-shaped white flowers with blue eye, reaching 25cm high and 35cm spread. It flowers all summer in a sunny position.

- Coreopsis Golden Pom Pom, Fairweather's, Beaulieu, Hampshire Compact and free-flowering perennial that produces masses of double, frilly yellow flowers from June throughout summer. Suitable for use in patio containers and borders. Grows to a height and spread of 40cm.

- Gaura Tutti Frutti, Fairweather's, Beaulieu, Hampshire A deep-pink flowered selection. The green leaves and stems are suffused with crimson, especially on flowering stems. Can be used as a summer impulse plant to fill gaps in borders or as the centrepiece to planted containers. Has a height and spread of 40cm.

- Gaura Rosy Jane, Fairweather's, Beaulieu, Hampshire The first bicolour flowered Gaura with white flowers and a pink, picotee edge to each petal. Flowers are borne in profusion and make a great impression. A traditional Gaura suited to the middle of a border.

- Begonia Waterfall series, Florema, Aalsmeer, the Netherlands This outdoor range is being developed for baskets and pots, with a quick "easy to grow and keep" formula. The first new colours are the Encanto - a large, calyx-shaped flower - and the Victoria Falls, a big, double flower. All are strong plants with vivid coloured flowers.

- Gaura lindheimeri Fandango 'Blaze', Hortis Holland, Rijswijk, the Netherlands A compact-growing plant with fresh, dark purple flowers and darkish green leaves, which turn red in autumn. Flowers in spring to late autumn.

- Gaura lindheimeri Fandango 'Fancy Free', Hortis Holland, Rijswijk, the Netherlands An attractive Gaura that produces pink and white flowers. It has a compact shape and flowers from spring until late autumn.

- Coreopsis 'Elfin Gold', Jelitto, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire A natural dwarf about 25cm high with long-lasting striking yellow-orange flowers. It is an unusual, fully hardy perennial.

- Geranium 'Dark Reiter', Jelitto, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire A seed-raised strain from 'Midnight Reiter' which is produced from tissue culture, whose dark foliage and intense blue flowers contrast beautifully.

- Choisya 'White Dazzler', Wyevale Nurseries, Hereford This plant displays a compact habit that is even branching, and has bright white, strongly scented flowers in spring and autumn.

- Cordyline Sunrise, Northern Liner Company, Preston, Lancashire This stunning Cordyline has elegant burgundy leaves with a broad vibrant pink margin. Unlike other pink forms this plant is relatively quick to grow and is believed hardier than similar varieties. Liners available now.

INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW

Exotic ranges

Four Oaks organiser Pat Coutts says to expect a tropical feel in House F this year as 13 companies from the Valencia region of Spain exhibit for the first time.

Represented by the Spanish-based Professional Association of Flowers, Plants & Horticultural Technology, Coutts says they will be bringing a range of produce to spark plant retailers' interest.

Ornamental plant production in the Valencia region is geared around export and amounts to about 34 per cent of all Spanish production. The range includes aromatics, cacti, conifers, palms, trees, shrubs, flowering and indoor plants, roses and climbers from the region to bring a Mediterranean feel to the show.

Some names to look out for are: Botanica Levantina SL - grower of palm trees and Mediterranean plants; Casa Galan Horticulture - specialist grower of shaped Laurus Nobilis; Maceflor SA - ceramics, pots, trays and containers, labelling, netting; Mediterranaea De Cactus - cactus plants in presentation packaging; Orvifrusa - roses, fruit trees, shrubs, Mediterranean plants; Polaris World Garden - mature trees, Mediterranean plants, palm trees; Viveros March - large specimens of olives, palms and indigenous plants.

- Italian representation is again strong this year with 20 exhibitors, including Chiti Piante, Gabellini, and Tesi, Ubaldo & Figli returning to the show. Across the Italian ranges expect to find quality specimen hardy nursery stock, olives, topiary, bamboos, conifers and palms.


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