Plants and ranges set to shine at Four Oaks

Continental growers will be flocking to the Four Oaks Trade Show despite Brexit concerns and they will join a host of domestic exhibitors, Matthew Appleby reports.

Bidens ‘Moonlight’: one in a series of three varieties - image: Thompson & Morgan
Bidens ‘Moonlight’: one in a series of three varieties - image: Thompson & Morgan

Brexit will be what exhibitors are talking about in the aisles of the Four Oaks Trade Show, with European trade especially relevant at the event this year after British voters decided to leave the EU. Subsequent fluctuations in the exchange rate and discussion of what leaving the EU will mean for importers and exporters has been high on the agenda for the horticulture industry.

  • Follow the latest news and updates from the show in Horticulture Week's Four Oaks LiveBlog.

Four Oaks has booked 430 exhibitors this year including nearly 200 from the continent. Show director Pat Coutts says the proportion of European exhibitors remains at 40 per cent and there is "no sign" whatsoever that Brexit is deterring continental growers from exhibiting. "From the exhibitors, it's all systems go," she adds. The show's capacity is 450 exhibitors and it expects to sell out stand space.

Overseas groups include the Kildare group of Irish growers, Zenflora from Denmark, Toscana Piante from Italy and Floranord from northern Italy. Bord na Mona Irish growers include Kelly Nurseries, Rentes, Schram and L&K Dunne.

Kieran Dunne, director of Kildare-based propagation nursery L&K Dunne, says: "I'm very positive and business will continue. I'm not concerned. I'd suggest very little has changed. My only worry is a depression or recession, but I do think the new prime minister in the UK has stabilised things and come out fighting. Where it goes in the next two years, there's nothing we can do about it.

"For us, we trade in euros and will continue to trade in euros. For any big order you have to quote and you have to know your business. We've had the toughest eight years over the last eight years in Ireland. Our banks and economy gave our industry a heavy going over. Anyone still in business is a strong business and has come out the other side. Now, 2016 has been our best year in eight years. We're used to a difficult industry. That's why I'm not concerned. Product has to be bought somewhere regardless of euro and sterling and the market will be served by somebody."

Profitplant's Andre Doordin will exhibit autumn and winter lines at the show. These include skimmia, ilex and berried plants for autumn and indoor added-value lines such as contemporary ceramic pot plants and traditional red and white pots for Christmas.

Doordin says Brexit has made an impact on the exchange rate for everybody, though he has not seen a loss in volume because of it - any sales decline in the summer was due to poor weather. "Trade slowed quite a bit after Brexit, but that was more to do with bad weather," he explains. "We do have to adjust prices with the exchange rate. I don't think anyone will be able to hold them. It's not something we'd do on a weekly basis because we want to offer stability on price."

Hardy nursery stock

Coutts says there are more hardy nursery stock exhibitors booked this year, including several new Christmas tree growers. Many growers and wholesalers have put off setting wholesale prices because of Brexit-related uncertainty.

There will be a record 31 Christmas tree growers at the show this year, beating last year's record of 28. Six are first-timers.

Danish Christmas tree supplier Kortegaard is keeping wholesale prices at 2015 levels despite Brexit-induced changes to the exchange rate. Kortegaard supplies Danish, Scottish and other EU-sourced trees to UK garden centres.

Many Christmas tree suppliers did not set prices ahead of the Brexit vote in June and are waiting for currency levels to stabilise before setting them for this season. But Kortegaard director Kasper Graven says: "We have already set our prices for 2016 and we are maintaining those prices regardless of the current situation. The price level is the same as in 2015. We believe things will stabilise once the new Government will get a chance to get to work. The situation is of course concerning, but we have decided not to panic and carry on as usual."

In 2015, a glut of continental trees hit the UK as plantations matured. "We see the markets in Denmark and Scotland being very similar to last year," adds Graven. "There are quite a lot of trees grown. However, it has become increasingly difficult to produce good-quality trees, which has resulted in too many lower-quality trees with lower prices and not enough higher-quality trees that have maintained a steady price level.

"This goes for Denmark as well as Scotland and other countries in which Christmas tree production is significant. Danish trees are still among the best and without supply from Denmark we would probably not be able to source enough high-quality trees to satisfy our UK customers. We believe quality sells in garden centres and higher focus on quality rather than price is a better investment in the long run."

Fillingham Christmas Trees will be among the UK contingent at four Oaks. The Lincolnshire grower has been supplying garden centres, parish councils, farm shops, retail outlets, holiday parks and leading hotel and pub chains for 30 years. It grows Nordman fir, Norway spruce, Blue Spruce, Omorika, pot Fraser fir, wooden blocked trees and reamed trees for wall brackets.

One of the biggest and fastest-expanding bedding growers in the UK, Neame Lea, will be launching a new business at the show. Managing director David Ball explains that after buying the trading company and share capital in Zyon UK Flowers & Plants the aim will be to "build other ranges around the business".

The deal will enable Zyon UK to exclusively market Neame Lea's ornamental plant production, enabling customers to "efficiently source both UK and European plants, flowers and added value from one point of contact".

The new Neame Lea plant range at Four Oaks is called "Enjoy Your Garden". It features products grown by Neame Lea and marketed by Zyon UK, including bedding, perennials, shrubs, herbs and vegetable plants - the full outdoor garden range. Hortipak is supplying labels.

Neame Lea was recently involved in the British Protected Ornamentals Association and Home Grown Users Group Home Grown Retail Award for promotion and support of UK-grown plants and flowers. The award went to Grace Hurrell of Tesco for the chain's consistent support and promotion of British-grown bedding.

Richard Priestley of Neame Lea says the success this season is due to the hard work of its own staff and the commitment of Tesco and its plants buying manager, Harriet Turnbull, in promoting and merchandising UK-grown bedding.

Ball says the season has been "quite good", with perennial shrub sales increasing and bedding relatively static overall. He adds: "Supermarket customers have fared better than garden centre and DIY customers. That's down to footfall and when the weather has been bad people have still been going to supermarkets more than garden centres or DIYs."

Neame Lea opened a retail shop at its Gosberton nursery this year, which has provided insight into customer behaviour. Ball does not expect to take on any major new customers for 2017 because his sites are reaching capacity, even after a 40,000sq m expansion to 42 acres. The firm plans to continue investing £1m a year in new equipment and facilities but is not planning any further expansion for a couple more years, despite "being approached more and more for new business".

Clematis liners

New Leaf Plants sales manager Andy Jeanes says the Worcestershire-based grower is planning a possible launch of clematis liners at Four Oaks this year after having a one-acre propagation unit built at its new Bredon View (formerly Hillview) site recently, near its existing Evesham nursery.

"We may be taking liner stock as well," he adds. "In the future we will be supplying liner stock, which we have not done before. There will be plug and pre-lined liners for other growers. There's not many people doing it and we've just had the facilities built to do it."

New Leaf recently hosted an open day to show off development of the site to customers and residents. Jeanes says the site is "work in progress" and New Leaf will not fully transfer until mid 2017. Multi-span tunnels with bubble wrap sides from Keder are next to go up. New Leaf is now selling Raymond Evison-branded clematis.

Paul Jackson of Channel Island Plants says Four Oaks has always been great for him and he plans to enter 10 new plants in the show's awards. They include Nemesia Sunpeddle Yellow White from Suntory, new petunias and calibrachoas from Breier in Israel and several plants bred by David Kerley including Tumbelina Francesca and Petunia Designer series plant Inksplash, which is blue with flecks.

Nemesia Sunpeddle Yellow White: will be entered in the show’s new plant awards - image: Channel Island Plants/earley ornamentals

Jackson points out that breeding work such as Kerley's is vitally important for the trade and the awards feedback demonstrate the good work that is going on.

Schneider Youngplants sales manger Simon Wright says the Dutch grower's new launch Petunia 'Splash' is UK breeding that thrives in our climate from the start of spring though to winter. The company has released three colours - violet, pink and white - for 2017 with a further two complementing the range in 2018.

"These compact petunias are ideal for pot sales and baskets of up to 30cm diameter and for three colours in one plug the Trio plug makes a marvellous combination planter," Wright maintains. "As a result of intricate breeding, the selection of colours has been tested to perform equally together, giving cost-effective reliability."

Also new and exclusive to Schneider Youngplants is Surfinia Star. "Three vivid colours framed with a perfect star embossed in the centre, the flower size is just larger than a calibrachoa flower with a mound-forming habit, good strong roots and determined vigour to keep on flowering all summer," says Wright.

New turf product

Meanwhile, Pictorial Meadows will exhibit the new PM Turf, which gives customers the benefits of the Pictorial Meadows perennial seed mixtures in a product that is quicker to establish. PM Turf consists of 100 per cent meadow plantlets (no grass) growing in a "special substrate". The product is designed to attract pollinators and other wildlife at sites that "need a high-impact but sustainable meadow". It is aimed at architects, local authorities, visitor attractions and landscape contractors.

Volentis is a new name in the market. The Dutch tree nursery used to sell through a co-operative but now has its own name.

T Wezelenburg Nurseries from Boskoop is also new to the UK. It will be exhibiting at Four Oaks for the first time, showing a range of rootballed plants that are suitable for potting or planting to get a mature, well-branched plant. The trees are delivered in jute.

Another first-timer is Dutch-based Boomkwekerij E de Jong Tree Nursery, which is known throughout Europe and beyond for its specialist grafted rootstock, hence the name "the grafting specialist" - de entspecialist.

These grafts are planted out in a field and further cultivated as whips transplanted twice and as standard trees transplanted three times. In addition to these whips and standard trees, the nursery offers a broad assortment of multi-stemmed shrubs and topiary trees. New on offer this year are also container hedges, pleached trees in containers or root ball, 'Royal Hedge' for screening and grasses for retail sales. New varieties include Quercus palustris 'Green Pyramid', Acer palmatum 'Tsukasa Silhouette' and Quercus palustris 'Green Pyramid'.

Farplants, the biggest supplier of garden plants in the UK, will use Four Oaks to launch its 2017 Christmas added-value range of seasonal planted tubs and pots. The company's range of Christmas wreaths has been completely redesigned for this year and will also feature at the show.

Belgian nursery Laurica Plants will be showing its specialised bay trees and pre-shaped laurels.

New plant launches from Thompson & Morgan include Bidens 'Moonlight', Bidens 'Firelight' and Bidens 'Fairylight'.

Miscanthus sinensis EMPHIS01 'Red Cloud' from Hogendoorn Holland and Empho is a new dwarf variety that has red flowers and starts flowering earlier than all other miscanthus species. The emphasis is on "graceful". The plants flower richly and have a compact habit of up to 1m high. 'Red Cloud', which has plant breeders' rights, is easy to maintain and hardy to -23 degsC. The ornamental grass grows in sun or partial shade, in any soil. It is ideal as a hedge of grasses, solitary or on a patio, in mass plantings or borders.

Red Cloud: early-flowering miscanthus - image: Hogendoorn Holland/Empho

Sedum 'Oriental Dancer' from the Burpee Breeding Programme will be introduced exclusively by Rijnbeek & Son as a bee-friendly plant for bigger pots. It had its worldwide launch at Cultivate 2016 in Ohio, USA.

Calibrachoa Rave Pink '16 from Pentland Plants has an upright mounding habit and a stable star pattern in the pink flower. The medium-growing variety is two weeks earlier to flower than competitive varieties but still keeps its mounding habit over a long time and is ideal for early sales.

The UK-bred Fox Series of eight heucheras, bred by Richard and Vicky Fox, will be displayed at Four Oaks by Seiont Nurseries, which will also be presenting a new range of 'Dreaming' buddleias.

Other new introductions from Seiont, which has exhibited continuously at Four Oaks for more than 35 years, will include Tiarella 'Angel Wings', bred in Cheshire by Plantagogo. Diervilla 'Honey Bee', Sambucus 'Serenade' and Gaura 'Freefolk Rosy' will also feature.

Elsner PAC will introduce seven new cultivars of pelargoniums suitable for bedding and basket performance. The PAC Ville de Dresden Improved are very early single white flowers, round, dense and with a well-branching habit.

There are also four new ZONAL cultivars in the PAC Dark Line series, all with an even and round growth habit. PAC Alma features large semi-double, pastel-pink early flowers and dark foliage. PAC Greta, with semi-double lavender-blue flowers and dark foliage, is very early and free-flowering. PAC Violetta has semi-double purple flowers and dark foliage. PAC Spanish Wine Rose, which is medium early flowering, features semi-double pink flowers with a large red "eye" and dark-green leaves with a high heat tolerance.

PAC says market interest for interspecific hybrids continues to grow and there are two new additions to its two-in-one series. Peach has large semi-double flowers and leaves that are healthy, uniform and small. Bushy and upright, it also has a strong branching habit and is recommended as a bedding plant. Cassiopeia features rich, deep-red semi-double flowers. It is medium early flowering with uniform small leaves, upright and a medium strong habit.

This year's new introductions from Fairweather's Nursery include Agapanthus 'Snow Crystal', which is evergreen with tall flowers at 90cm. Agapanthus 'Pretty Sandy', deciduous and hardy, is a clump-forming variety at mid height that grows to 40-50cm tall and flowers in July and August. Lupinus Rachel De Thame is from West Country Nurseries. Lavandula intermedia 'Olympia' is more compact and dense of habit than other intermedia types, being 20cm shorter at 50cm high. It has rich violet flowers from June onwards. Cirsium Frosted Magic, the first white Cirsium, has masses of white thistle-like flowers all summer long and is said to be excellent for mixed borders. It grows up to 70cm high.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Rob Chapman will introduce his Victorian Violas at Four Oaks. For the past five years his breeding programme has led to five varieties being chosen for sale around the world. These varieties are marketed under the "Magnifi-Scent" name.

Ball Colegrave will unveil new colours and novelties including Alstroemeria 'Summer Paradise', Petunia Designer, Angelonia Archangel, Petunia Tumbelina, Begonia 'Northern Lights', Verbena Sparkle, Calibrachoa Can-can, Trixi plant combinations, Dianthus Beauties, Lasting Beauty perennials, Osteospermum Akila and Darwin Plants perennials.

Tumbelina Francesca: raspberry-veined - image: Channel Island Plants/ Earley Ornamentals

Eagle Plants, now part of the Newey Grow division, has new perennials from Dummen - Penstemon Pep Talk series, Aster Island series, Phlox subulata Spring, Phlox paniculata Flame and Gaillardia Spin Top series.

Delamore, which has rebranded as Volmary, has increased the Powerliner range by a further 50 varieties. Delphiniums Faust and Strawberry Fair are bred by Chelsea gold medal winner Blackmore & Langdon. Geum 'Primrose Cottage' and Geranium 'Purple Ghost' are both new. For 2017, Volmary will offer the most comprehensive series of fuchsia available, from climbing 6ft specimens to 12in mini varieties. Included in the series is Pink Fizz, bred in the UK and exclusively available from Volmary. Also introduced will be Fuchsita in a full series of colours. Calibrachoa 'Calipetite' is naturally compact and available in six colours.

André Briant Jeunes Plants: Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo Nishiki’ - image: André Briant Jeunes plants

New colours added

Earley Ornamentals has added more than 100 new colours to its range. Two options for growers, retailers and garden designers have been added to the Earley Nemesia range - Aroma Rhubarb & Custard and Aroma Plums & Custard. New colours Blue Rose and Yellow White have also been added to the Nemesia Sunpeddle series that was introduced last year.

The Chic Collection petunia, with its star-shaped pattern, now features in the Earley Petunia range. New additions to Earley's Petunia Tumbelina series include the blue double Maria, early variety raspberry-veined Francesca and the white Diana. Also new is F1 Espresso, a naturally dwarf multiflora petunia available in blue, pink, red and white. Another addition to the Earley Designer selection is the unusual Petunia Inksplash, which produces blue and white bicolour flowers.

The double-flower Anemone Harmony Double F1 is also among the introductions. Five new mixes have been added to the colour offer in Pansy Premier F1 - Blotch, Clear Spring, Cool Blues, Forest Fruits and Lemoncello. The Earley Viola range includes garden hero Viola Vibrante F1, which now includes 17 separate colours and six mixes. Recently added mixes are Blotch and Clear Spring. The other Earley garden hero is Viola Grandissimo F1, which is now available in Clear Purple. Earley's fuchsia offer has been expanded with the addition of Bella Fuchsia, available in 13 colours.

Brandkamp's Fuchsia Jollies family has grown again with new colours. Fuchsia Jollies Brest has white/light-lilac flowers. The semi-trailing Fuchsia Jollies Bizet has a new red/purple mix. Fuchsia La Grande Savoye is available in white/green and dark-pink/lilac colours. Calibrachoa Calimero has a new compact series called Calimerito that comes in five new colours - pink, fuchsia, yellow eye, cappuccino and red.

Fuchsia Jollies: Brest from Brandkamp - image: Brandkamp

Andre Briant Jeunes Plants will show Abelia grandiflora Sunny Charm 'Minduo1', Caryopteris x clandonensis Blue Fountain 'Novacaryfou', Chaenomeles speciosa 'Toyo Nishiki', Physocarpus opulifolius Little Angel 'Hoogi016' and Weigela florida Ebony & Ivory 'Velda'.

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