Germany's Ruhr area in late January might not seem the most appealing destination, but Essen's IPM show, held next week, continues to hold a pre-eminent position in international horticulture.
Major trade shows have seen a dip in visitor numbers in recent years in the face of other ways of doing business, such as via the internet. But IPM remains dizzying in scale, with around 1,400 exhibitors (around 400 more than Amsterdam's Horti Fair in October), covering 1,500sq m and drawing in nearly 60,000 visitors, both from the home market and from around the world.
Divided into four main themes - plants, technology, floriculture and sales promotion - the show has established a reputation as a launch pad for new plants.
The IPM brand has now grown beyond the confines of a single show to embrace similar - though for now smaller-scale - events in China, Dubai, and, for the first time this year, Moscow.
Dr George Thorburn is an IPM veteran, having visited and exhibited at the show since its earliest incarnation 25 years ago. "I think it's the best show of its type from the commercial point of view," he says. "Many others are places to show, but this is one of the few where people place orders. It's highly specialised and focused - people know what they'll get."
With New Zealand-based plant supplier Duncan & Davies, Thorburn helped launch several new introductions, including varieties of Camellia and Phormium, which have since become established in the international marketplace. "When we first showed those, we were inundated - it was marvellous," he recalls.
Thorburn will use this year's show for the international launch of a product from new company Arpolith, which manufactures a "revolutionary" water-retentive, growth-promoting agent that has been over 30 years in development.
"If you want to tell the horticulture world about something, this is the place to do it," he says, adding that the company hopes to follow the Essen show with appearances at the IPM shows in Dubai and China.
Flying the UK flag
Around a dozen UK companies usually exhibit at the show, mainly under the umbrella of promotional body the Commercial Horticulture Association.
This year these will include Lincolnshire's Golden Grove Nursery. Company partner Roger Ward says: "We exhibited two years ago, focusing on our blue spruces, which are popular across northern Europe. As a result of that we sold all we had for 2006 and 2007. Now we're going back to rekindle some more interest in them." The show has so far been the company's only foray into exhibiting overseas. "It's good if you have something special to sell," says Ward. "But then specialisation is the way the industry is going."
The event is also key for the home market, with the German Central Horticultural Association (ZVG) using the occasion to launch HortiGate, a new nationwide information service for the horticulture sector, which provides users with tailored news content by email and has a searchable archive.
ZVG will also host another innovation, the Plant Innovation Showcase, presenting a wide range of new plant varieties from many breeders.
Meanwhile, exhibitors from other countries will use the event to showcase their own horticultural products, with Brazil, Japan and for the first time, South Korea, each taking national booths.
Venue: Messe Essen, Norbertstrasse, Essen, Germany
Dates: 24-27 January
Times: 9am to 6pm daily
Tickets: Adults EUR19, concessions EUR16, trainees/students EUR11, groups of 20+ people EUR11 each, two-day ticket EUR29, four-day ticket EUR53. The catalogue costs EUR14.
HOW TO GET THERE
By air Dusseldorf International Airport. IPM has an information counter in the centre of the arrivals hall in Terminal B. For airport information, call 0049 211 4210. An airport express bus reaches Messe Essen within 20 minutes.
- IPM Fair Cup 2008 - 24 January
The international competition for bouquets, container planting and pot plants, organised by the Trade Association of German Florists (FDF) and Federal Association of Retail Gardeners (BE), presents awards in all three categories, as well as a combined winner, to be awarded the overall IPM Fair Cup.
- Indega Prize for Technical Progress in Horticulture - 24 January
Open to all exhibitors at the show, the Indega Prize is awarded to the product or service which shows the greatest technological advance, versatility, sustainability and commercial promise.
- International Horticultural Forum on Eastern Europe - 25 and 26 January
Experts from several countries will discuss commercial opportunities in each of these rapidly developing markets, and the opportunities for partnership with local horticultural producers. Held in English.