Four Oaks this year has confidently shrugged off the potential effects of the credit crunch. With a number of new plant exhibitors for visitors to meet — as well as the return after a short spell away of some well-known faces — the show promises more variety than ever for visitors.
As always, stands at the show will be offering a huge mix of plants — with a wide spectrum of prices, from top-of-the-range specimen trees to the cheaper plant ranges.
The range of trees lined up for the show, aimed primarily at the landscape market, is impressive. Premier Trees, for example, is offering wide ranges of larger specimens — up to 1m in girth - and instant hedging up to 2m in height. The hedging will be ready-clipped and includes evergreen species such as Prunus, Photinia and Elaeagnus.
This is the first year the firm has displayed at Four Oaks and it will have a selection of its trees on display. Sales manager Jonathan Ward explains: "We'll be mainly trying to sell to the landscape market, raising our profile and looking for new customers."
Tamar Nurseries is another firm new to Four Oaks and will be offering high-value products — in this case, container trees.
Dutch evergreen supplier De Limieten, meanwhile, will be selling various types of yew, holly and box hedging, in heights of up to 2m. It will also be promoting its own hardy holly Ilex aquifolium, with large red berries and leaves varying in shape from spiny to undulate. The firm is also offering specimen trees of up to 4.5m high.
Exhibitors are reflecting the interest in exciting sculptoral shapes. Agrumi, which sells online across Britain, will be offering topiary art, espaliers and even topiary animals.
Hallmark Plants, meanwhile, will be offering a huge range of topiary shapes: pom poms, pyramids, clipped balls, cones, spirals etc. The range even includes a topiary footballer and a Mercedes Benz logo.
One of the most popular exhibits at the exhibition is expected to be the large trolley displays. A total of 31 exhibitors will be offering Danish trolleys of stock, which can be delivered after the show.
Sixteen of these exhibitors are linked to Trolley Net — a division of transport company Andersons, which has developed a network capable of delivering plants to any British postcode. This year, the firm is encouraging its clients to work together and has created a large display of products for which there is an efficient transport network.
Jackie Sturgess runs Sholtsgate Nursery in Lincolnshire, which grows climbing plants and is one of the Trolley Net clients. She says: "The Dutch have traditionally been better organised than us. Nurseries or retailers can place an order with a major Dutch company and delivery will be guaranteed within two or three days. In the past, British growers haven't been able to match this."
David Anderson, who runs Trolley Net, explains: "We wanted to make transport more efficient — we felt that we should get together and let garden centres know that they existed. We just want to provide a transport hub for the small growers."
Trolley Net has attracted a large number of customers, which will be exhibiting at Four Oaks. These include firms such as Beaver Plants, which specialises in both aquatic plants and striking and exotic stock such as banana plants and exotic flowering lilies.
Highland Heathers will also be part of this display and will be offering new ranges of Gentiana and Pieris as well as heathers.
In addition to Trolley Net, there is a separate trolley display organised by 15 growers, which are part of the Quintus Partnership. Quintus has a central ordering system and hopes that the display will raise the organisation's profile, encouraging future customers to go straight to Quintus to order a wide variety of ornamentals.
The partnership now includes growers such as the Gedney Bulb Company and Bridge Farm Nursery, which supplies small indoor plants and hanging baskets.
Other grower co-operatives such as Farplants — one of the UK's largest wholesale suppliers of garden plants with more than 25 production sites in operation by its grower members — will also have a stand.
Another feature of the Four Oaks show is the large number of cash and carry outlets exhibiting. J Van Vliet Cash & Carry Group, which supplies mainly to florists and garden centres, will be showing its ranges of plants. Cambridgeshire-based Delamore will also be exhibiting at the show.
Visitors to Seiont Nurseries' stand, meanwhile, will be able to see a number of its new introductions including the compact, bushy and free-branching Photinia Corallina and Tiarella 'Mystic Mist', which features speckled variegation and very colourful, prominent veining all year.
Return to Four Oaks
Coming back after an absence of many years is Hillier Nurseries, which will promote its range of hardy nursery stock including a selection of feature plants. It will also be highlighting new Digitalis 'Serendipity'.
Also present will be another of the UK's largest growers, Johnsons of Whixley.
Johnsons is actively increasing the number of plants grown for retail and will be showing its range of home-grown 15-litre specimen shrubs, conifers and climbers as well as the five-litre patio range and two- and three-litre impulse plants, including grasses and herbaceous stock.
Four Oaks regular Millview Nurseries, meanwhile, which specialises in selling pot plants and pot bedding to garden centres and retailers, will be promoting its Pelargonium Senetti series and Angelonia.
Kernock Park Plants will be displaying some of the 101 new additions that it has created for its latest catalogue. Dahlia, Gerbera and Heuchera are among the plants on show. Fairweather's of Hampshire will be promoting its popular 9cm liners of perennials, shrubs and climbers.
Allensmore Nurseries will be at Four Oaks to promote its range of large, colourful plants - including delphiniums, geraniums and the Senetti series - which the nursery says are intended to generate "impulse sales" at garden centres.
On Ball Colgrave's stand, a large number of introductions will be on show including Coleus 'Chocolate Splash', the Coleus Versa series, the pollen-free dwarf sunflower 'Miss Sunshine' and the Fleuroselect gold medal-winning Gaillardia 'Mesa Yellow'.
Ball will also be showing the Darwin Perennial range of bareroot plants. New introductions from Darwin since it joined Ball Horticultural Company in 2007 include Echinacea 'Red Knee High' - a hardy, vigorous cultivar with red flowers with purple overtones - and Heuchera 'Pinot Gris'.
Moles Seeds will be offering ranges of seeds for ornamental and edible plants. Thompson & Morgan will also be promoting its ranges of attractively packaged seeds, bulbs and young plants aimed at the garden enthusiast. Jelitto Perennial Seeds will be offering up to 3,000 varieties of seeds, created by the German parent company.
There will also, as always, be specialist growers at the show. Whetman Pinks, another Four Oaks stalwart, will be offering its latest ranges of Dianthus, carnations and garden pinks.
With much media hype concerning the economy, the weakness of sterling against the euro and the weakness of the dollar against both, Whetman has seen its exports increase year-on-year, it says.
Commercial Nursery, meanwhile, has added to its range of Cornus and Cercis. In addition to new ranges of vigorous and mildew-resistant Cornus, it is promoting varieties of Japanese snowbell and hydrangeas.
Specialist grower Plant Planet will be offering rare varieties of pot plants - including some varieties that are threatened with extinction in the wild.
Just under half of the firms selling plants at the show are from overseas. As always, there is a substantial Dutch and Italian presence among the exhibitors.
Four Oaks regular Chiti Piante of Pistoia will be exhibiting once again. Meanwhile, Flor Co-op, which is based on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy, is offering a variety of shrubs, including Azalea and Camellia as well as Hydrangea, Pieris and Rhododendron. The emphasis is on bright, large, full displays of colour.
Many larger plants are being imported from southern Europe. Classiflora Imports has been the agent for Italian major producer Zelari Piante for 25 years. It will be promoting trees and shrubs in sizes up to 1,500 litres. Plants include gnarled olive trees, laurel and Berberis. Classiflora will also be working with Spanish partners to sell various types of Yucca and fruit trees as well as palms.
Dutch producer Stolwijk will be back for a second year, offering ornamental trees and shrubs from its lorry display. Plants include bamboo,conifers, fruit trees, hardy ferns and hedging plants.
Many of the foreign producers will be selling young plants, plugs and seeds for growing on. German company Selecta Klemm will be promoting its young plants, including Petunia, Dianthus and Helleborus.
Dutch firm Beekenkamp will be advertising its young plants and seeds. The firm, which recently completed 15ha of new greenhouses in Holland, will be offering ornamental Begonia, Capsicum and Cyclamen. It is particularly keen to promote its new products, Osteospermum 'Sunny' and the Waterfall series of Begonia.
Other Dutch firms include Armada, which is exhibiting at Four Oaks for the first time. The firm specialises in breeding plants for cut flowers such as Chrysanthemum and Aster, and for pot plants including Dahlia and Hibiscus.
Other Chrysanthemum producers include Belgian firm Gediflora, which caters mainly to the potted-plant market.
INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW
Cortaderia pumila 'Petite Plumes', Wyevale Nurseries With a resurgence in the popularity of grasses, Wyevale Nurseries is introducing this exclusive dwarf variegated pampas grass, which has attractive yellow foliage that develops to silver. It produces compact plumes of flowers on young plants.
Heucherella 'Sweet Tea', Fairweather's Huge, cinnamon-coloured stars are surrounded by orange tea-coloured borders. Large, palmate leaves darken in summer and lighten up again in autumn. It has a big, bold habit, is tolerant to heat and humidity, can reach a height of 70cm and has a spread of 50cm.
Euphorbia characias 'Tasmanian Tiger', Fairweather's This new Euphoria has variegated silver-edged leaves. The flowers are white with a green centre. The variety was discovered by Sally Johannsohn in Tasmania. The plant will reach a height of 80cm and has a spread of 50cm.
INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Salsa', West End Nurseries This compact plant produces large, pink-suffused red mophead flowers from June to September. The new foliage is slightly bronzed (similar to H. preziosa types). The plant will be available from spring onwards.
Styrax japonicus Award of Garden Merit (AGM), Commercial Nursery This Japanese snowbell has elliptical to ovate leaves, which are finely or sparsely serrated. Flowers are white or light pink and 1.5cm wide. They are bell-shaped and five-lobed, hanging from a green stalk. Stamens are yellow. The bark of this tree is a smooth orangey brown, and the tree can reach 10m in height with an equal spread.
Cornus x rutgersensis 'Celestial Shadow', Commercial Nursery This high-quality variegated dogwood has an upright shape and variegated yellow and green foliage.This Cornus has delicate white blooms with four bracts. The plant is resistant to mildew.
INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW
Dahlia Dream 'Fantasy', Kernock Park Plants This is part of a new range of semi-compact Dahlia, with bronze foliage and contrasting ruffled flower colours of salmon and coral, which stand out against the leaves. The plant can be used in a container or border. It grows to a height and spread of about 40cm.
Petubrachoa SuperCal 'Blue', Kernock Park Plants Suitable for hanging baskets, window boxes and tall flowerpots, this plant's blooms are designed to spill and trail over the edges, displaying the vibrant colours. The plants grow to a height of 30cm.
Pelargonium 'Calliope', Syngenta A new product, this hybrid has attractively shaped leaves and an interesting mounding habit. It is robust and heat-tolerant, designed for general garden use in pots, beds or baskets. It displays a striking, dark-red colour.