This year's IPM Essen trade show looks set to have its largest ever British presence, with companies from across the industry planning to exhibit.
The show, taking place in Germany over four days next week, is increasingly considered to be the most important in Europe. For the first time this year, British attendance will be higher than at Horti Fair, traditionally the main European show for UK companies.
Now in its 30th year, IPM will have more than 1,500 exhibitors from 40 countries and 60,000 expected visitors. Almost 60 per cent of exhibitors will come from outside Germany, an increase of 10 per cent from 2008.
The show is organised into four themes - plants, floristry, technology and sales. UK businesses will exhibit in two national pavilions organised by the Commercial Horticultural Association (CHA) in the nursery hall and technology hall, the latter seeing a British presence for the first time last year.
"When we started going it was very much a plant-based show, but over recent years it has opened up on the supply and technology side of the industry," said CHA manager Stuart Booker.
"It has grown significantly even in the past two or three years. We put a small pavilion in the technology hall last year just to get a foot in the door. That has doubled in size this year and we are going to keep expanding that area while still retaining a strong nursery display."
He added that the international attendance at the show has also increased. "It used to be very much a German and northern European show, but now the mix is increasing across the world. It is becoming the key event. There is a large visitor base from the UK, with buyers and commercial growers, and a small number of people on the fresh produce side of things."
The quality of visitors and the opportunity to meet existing and potential clients in one place is the main draw for many of the UK exhibitors, and many attend for the opportunity to improve business in Europe, or to break into the export market for the first time.
"It will give us a bit of penetration into the European market and hopefully help us improve our sales there," said Guernsey Clematis Nursery sales manager Lindsay Reid.
"Also, we already have a customer base in Europe and it will be good to meet up with them. It's a good central show. There are also a lot of visitors from the USA, so it's helpful to meet existing customers and to get new ones."
Christmas tree company Joseph Noblett has a large customer base in North America and is also hoping to benefit from the growing presence of visitors from outside Europe. "It's one of the shows we feel we have to be at," said owner Joseph Noblett. "We can also see our eastern European customers."
Many agree that IPM now has the edge on Horti Fair. "It's an opportunity to make contact with our UK customers and a lot of our export customers," said Bulrush Horticulture professional products director James Hayes. "Horti Fair is not the power in trade show terms it was 10 years ago - IPM is the export show we're putting the most effort into."
David Austin Roses director for Europe Tony Slack agreed that IPM is the most important show. "We do 50 shows but this is by far the most important on the wholesale level," he said.
"You get customers all in one place and so you can do what could be a week's travel in two days. It has deteriorated slightly in the downturn and you get fewer people coming round. But it tends to be the time-wasters who stop coming."
Despite the economic situation, the continuing growth of the show is attracting new interest and leading companies to revaluate.
The Caledonian Tree Company is returning after a 10-year absence and a number of firms are exhibiting for the first time. One is berry fruit and asparagus nursery Hargreaves Plants, whose Reuben Blackberry has been shortlisted in the top 20 as part of the Innovations Showcase.
Retail display manufacturer Stagecraft is another first-time exhibitor. "We've been to SpogaGafa, but this is the first time we'll be at IPM," explained managing director Tom Davis. "We've done some work in Italy and we want to do more in Europe. We're hoping to build up more contacts with groups and larger independents."
The Innovation Showcase, which awards the best new plants as selected by an expert jury, will take place for the fifth time. Information on the new products will be available in the Green City in Hall 1A, which is intended to provide a meeting place for associations, institutions and service providers.
The teaching show will offer information on fertilisers in the cultivation of ornamental plants available to trade visitors and this year's horticultural forum on Eastern Europe will focus on Poland.
The BGI (Association of the German Wholesale and Import Flower Trade) Trade Centre will involve suppliers of cut flowers from around the world and include four suppliers of potted plants and one of German cut greenery for the first time.
A new addition to the show this year will be the Colour Your Life Awards, organised by Plant Publicity Holland and trade association Bund deutscher Baumschulen, for plants with particular characteristics that can be used for sales promotion.
10am: Opening ceremony, Congress Center East, Hall Essen
3pm: The Best of Anthurie Unlimited, Green City/Hall 1A
10am: Training Day, Congress Center West, Hall Europa
10.30am: Entente Florale Deutschland, Congress Center South
11am: The Best of Anthurie Unlimited, Green City/Hall1A
1pm: Rotary Meeting, Park Restaurant, Hall 11
3pm: International Horticultural Forum on Poland, Congress Center South
4pm: "Marry Mania", FDF Florist Event Center, Green City/Hall 1A
11am: "Marry Mania", FDF Florist Event Center, Green City/Hall 1A
3.30pm: International Horticultural Forum on Poland, Congress Center
4pm: Floral Images of Three Generations, Green City/Hall 1A
1pm: Floral Images of Three Generations, Green City/Hall 1A
3pm: Awards ceremony for IPM competitions, Green City/Hall 1A
Caledonian Tree Company
David Austin Roses
The Guernsey Clematis Nursery
Plant Marketing International
PPC Labels (Plastic Printing Company)
Tyne Moulds & Machinery Co
When: 24-27 January
Where: Messe Essen, Norbertstrasse, 45131 Essen, Germany
Entry: EUR21 per day