The Four Oaks Trade Show has long been recognised as a place where people can pick up new ideas, techniques and learn about the latest equipment for growing and selling ornamentals.
This year there is an exciting array of equipment to help ornamental producers boost their productivity and get the most out of their protected space.
Many of the larger products are designed to help small producers develop more fully mechanised production lines. Producer of seeders Hamilton Design will be showing its Handy Seeder, which is designed for growers who want to start growing their own plugs, but do not want the expense of an automatic seeder.
The Hamilton stand will also be showing a hand-operated natural seeder, in which the plug trays are pushed, step by step, through the machine. The firm is also offering a variety of transplanters, designed for all sizes of greenhouse, with independently controlled heads run by computer. The firm's popular four-headed machine can transplant at a rate of 6,500 an hour, while the six-headed machine can deal with 10,000 plants an hour.
Hamilton will also be promoting its self-contained trimming machine, which can hold pots between 9cm and 28cm diameter and can trim to a foliage diameter of between 120mm and 360mm. Another trimming machine is on offer from Hortec. It has a 1.2m or 1.6m cutting head and can be adapted to customers' specifications.
Hortec is a UK distributor of potting machines and will be showing a variety of Javo models. It is currently offering special deals on the Javo Big Bale machines for distributing soil. In addition, it will offer the full Javo range of potting, tray-filling, bark-topping and tray-washing machines as well as conveyors, buffer-belts and mixers. A range of optional extras for machines are available.
Rotomation will also be offering potting equipment - designed for pots between 7cm and 40cm - as well as spraying equipment, tray fillers, drum seeding lines and tray washers.
Many of the stands will feature new varieties of containers. Calipso Roast will be introducing a range of biodegradable containers, which come in a variety of sizes and colours. The firm will also be adding a range of coloured zinc containers, primarily intended for the gift market.
Desch Plantpak will be promoting the latest version of its trays, which are intended for use with automated multi-cell systems. The tray is built for easier handing of the four-, six-, nine- and 12-cell bedding plants.
A wide variety of products to promote plant growth will be on offer. Plantcare will offer two new products. WoolMoss pellets are made from pure wool. The pellets are placed on the top of the soil in a pot. In addition to suppressing weeds, the product also rots down to give nutrients to the plants. The firm will also be offering a new range of capillary matting, with high water-retention qualities.
A number of exhibitors are selling equipment - often computerised - designed to ensure that glasshouses work as efficiently as possible. Hortisystems will show its latest climate control systems for greenhouses and polytunnels. These include motors and rack-and-pinion systems for ventilation and screening. The firm is also offering circulation and extracting fans, as well as irrigation and lighting control systems. It also offers shading, thermal and blackout screens. Various other exhibitors are offering heating systems and systems for cleaning greenhouses.
Quinton Edwards is exhibiting a project monitoring service to anyone wanting to build or install new greenhouses or climate control systems. The firm will liaise with contractors and oversee any works.
Capatex is distributing a wide range of horticultural textiles suitable for protecting fruit and vegetables. The firm will also be offering various grades of netting to deter birds, insects and animal pests.
Many stands at Four Oaks will display the smaller products that are essential to horticultural production. Tyne Moulds will be offering a special new Tree Support Tie, designed to support and protect container trees when grown against steel or nylon wire. The tree ties avoid the damage that can result from conventional ties.
Products designed to help garden centres run more efficiently are also on display. As always, many firms will be offering the latest electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) systems, which will not only act as a cash register but which can change prices, collate records of stock, keep customer profiles, manage loyalty schemes and prevent pilferage. Passfield will be unveiling its latest nursery management software, designed to deal with all the operations that a nursery has to undertake including sales processing, stock control, production and labelling.
Greenfield Software is offering systems that are specially tailored for nursery and garden centre management. The systems can handle all aspects of labelling, invoicing and re-ordering stock.
A number of firms are offering solutions to the problems of producing labelling, packaging and point-of-sale material. Tek GB (launched this year) will offer a full range of products from plant labels to seed pouches, as well as brochures.
Codeway will be showing a selection of machinery, most of it mounted on trolleys, which is capable of producing cheap and effective labelling. Codeway says its Automatic Labelling machine means that the cost of labelling will go down from 1p per pot to 0.25p per pot. A larger product, the Codeway Green Machine, has been specially set up to label large batches of pots. The Green Machine has a print-apply engine produced by Avery, the world's largest labelling firm, to ensure top-quality barcodes can be produced reliably.
Another firm, Hortipak, is offering small runs of bespoke labels, which can feature customers' artwork. The firm also offers a full range of clothing and workwear and has its own design service for creating logos.
Other firms are displaying packaging. Geerings is offering paper sleeves - printed or plain - as well as polypropylene sleeves for wrapping flowers of pot plants. It is also offering carrier bags as well as jute bags and accessories. Display units and equipment are also on sale.
The Christmas Cabin is promoting a range of easy-to-use Christmas tree holders, which will keep the trees upright for sale.
As always, many suppliers are keen to provide items for sale in garden centres and horticultural retail outlets. Many of these are functional items for the gardener, such as the bags of 6X Fertiliser that are making their debut at the show. Tool manufacturers such as Drapers will also be taking stands.
A number of suppliers will be offering novelty items, designed to provide exciting impulse buys for consumers. The Natural Cone & Fruit Company will supply pre-packed pine cones and dried fruit, as well as decorations, swags and garlands, while Elegance Natural Skincare will be hoping to bring its cosmetics to a wider market.
Many of the items are intended for customers who just want something attractive for their gardens. Oak Tubs Direct, as the name suggests, will offer attractive half-barrel oak planters. Red Barn Products will promote its ranges of wild bird feeders, nesting boxes and bird food.
And there are some suppliers hoping to take orders for big-ticket items. Breeze House, for example, is offering timber garden buildings, designed in the shape of traditional African circular houses. These can be fitted with electric heaters.
Some of the "hardy perennials" of the garden centre trade will be in evidence. Several companies will be offering Christmas trees. Maldwyn Lloyd will offer a range of trees, along with wreaths and decorations. The Kilted Christmas Tree Company will show pot-grown Christmas trees, which are becoming increasingly popular, while Joseph Noblett is promoting special stands that hold water and keep the trees fresh.
As always, the show will offer advice to employers who want to boost the skills of their workforce. The Institute of Horticulture, Reaseheath College, Myerscough College and the NFU will be available to talk about skills and the variety of short and long courses that are available.
All of which means that the Four Oaks Trade Show is not just a place to pick up the latest products, but it is also the ideal place to find out the latest developments and get to grips with the changes that will affect the entire industry.