This year, the Four Oaks Trade Show celebrates its 40th anniversary. Many things have changed in the horticulture industry but, despite the passing years, the show continues to be one of the most vibrant marketplaces for commercial horticulture displaying everything for the professional nursery, and in recent years the garden retail outlet, landscaper, designer, local authority and even farm shop.
Whatever the financial woes in the wider economy, there is an air of optimism and excitement in the run up to the show. Despite all the talk about credit crunches and financial cut backs, the show has a larger display area than last year and 460 exhibitors will be attending - 180 of whom are new to the show.
As always, the show reflects trends in the industry. Last year, there was a lot of emphasis on cash and carry outlets. This year, there are more products for consumers who want to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Once again, many growers will be using the show to launch their latest ranges of plants. Farplants marketing manager Neil Robertson explains: "There is a lot of interest in colourful perennials such as Nemesia. Begonias, which had fallen out of fashion, are now gaining in popularity because they are colourful and relatively drought resistant. And, of course, there is a huge demand for grow-it-yourself edible plants."
Trees are also present at the show - in all sizes - designed for the retail market. Stairway of Ayrshire will be showing trees grown in its airpots system and offering a bespoke display stand with its own irrigation system. Laurica Plants will offer a range of bay trees in various shapes that can be bought or hired. Heathwood Nurseries will display its ranges of metre-long hedge pots, which are suitable for landscapers and landowners. Heathwood is also offering a range of fruit trees.
Jurgelucks of Germany - a newcomer to the show - will be offering cloud trees, large specimen shrubs and its large fruit trees. Viking Nurseries from Norfolk will be selling a wide range of evergreen shrubs including yew, camellias, box and azaleas - as well as a wide range of conifers. JA Jones & Sons of Southport is offering a wide range of traditional trees, while HSK will offer Wollemi Pine and New Zealand tree ferns.
Appealing to both the garden centre and amenity markets, Mill House Nurseries is offering container-grown ornamental and native trees in 45-litre pots. The majority of stock is grown from seeds, and the company can offer proof of provenance on request.
The Commercial Nursery boasts a particularly unusual range of Cornus (dogwood). The firm is introducing a range of C. kousa 'Galilean', which has deep-green foliage and large, creamy bracts.
Around 30 per cent of the plant stands are being taken by sellers from overseas. As well as the usual plants from Holland, Italy and Spain, for the first time Eagle Plants will bring over stock from the Tuszynscy nursery in Poland, which offers half-finished pot plants including Clematis, Hosta and exotics. Alfredo Moreira da Silva & Filhos from Portugal will display trees, shrubs and conifers, while McGregor Plant Sales from California will have rooted liners and tissue culture.
There is a lot of interest in Mediterranean plants. Show newcomer Planta Nova from Spain will be showing palms, grasses, trees and tropicals, while Hishtil Nurseries of Israel will offer exciting new perennials. Closer to home, The Palm Centre from Surrey has a range of palms in threeand 7.5-litre pots.
Tesi Ubaldo & Figli of Italy will be exhibiting a range of hardy plants, evergreens, palms, bamboos and topiary. It is offering a wide range of sizes and a flexible delivery service.
Italian firm Chiti Piante has a wide range of ornamental outdoor plants and trees such as Acers, Buxus, conifers, olives, oak and yew. This year, for the first time, it will be offering half-standard trees. Europlants, which has been at the show for the past 19 years, will be offering its wide range of specimen plants and quality patio plants for the top end of the market - generally retailing up to £99.
Many exhibitors specialise in younger plants for growing on. De Zonnebloom Young Plants from Holland is selling plants as liners or half-finished. It has new ranges of Mandevilla and Hibiscus. Schneider young plants are sold in plug trays on Danish trolleys. This year the company is particularly keen to promote Petunia Daybreak - a basket petunia. Just Must Perennials will be showing a range of unusual perennials sold as plugs. Allplant will offer a specialist service supplying young plants grown for tissue culture, in cooperation with breeders. The firm can produce on a contract basis for individual breeders or growers.
Among the seed companies selling to the professional market, Florensis Flower Seeds has a new range of Sedum as well as some interesting grasses and Pelargoniums. Kings Seeds is offering a wide range of vegetable and ornamental seeds as well as a range of packeted seeds for retail sale. The firm boasts high standards and a rigorous testing regime.
There will be numerous new varieties too. Hilverdakooj of Holland will offer a range of garden plants including its Inticancha, which flowers from spring to autumn and is ideal for small gardens and patios. New Place Nurseries is showing its Coprosma Tequilla Sunrise, which is suitable for topiary.
V-Flora of Lincolnshire will be selling a wide variety of orchids, including a medium-sized phalaenopsis in a 9cm pot that is relatively low priced and easy to maintain.
Some exhibitors are promoting their more unusual stock. Seiont, based in Caemarfon in Wales, has Sambucus 'Black Tower'. This has black/green foliage on upright stems and a deep-pink and white flower. Dalina ApS is offering new ranges of Osteospermums and small dahlias. Kingfisher Nursery, appearing at the show for the first time, is offering specialist heathers.
There are also some old favourites. Highland Heathers is continuing to sell heathers in small pots, although it now offers Japanese Azaleas. Chapel Plants of Cambridgeshire is offering plants in oneand two-litre pots, with five-day delivery and good point-of-sale material. Oakgate Nursery will once again be exhibiting its range of one-litre pots with grasses, ferns and perennials, suitable for instant resale. Robin Tacchi Plants has introduced a range of plants specifically for the retail market.
The big Dutch Distributors will be attending the show. Gebr van Ballegooijen is bringing a sample van so that visitors can see a range of houseplants and outdoor plants. Kolff Plants, which has been going for 20 years and uses growers across Europe, will be promoting a range of plants suitable for cash and carry, retail sales or landscaping.
Cash and carries will be well represented. Springwood Nurseries of Bristol has a wide variety of small shrubs, including a good selection of 9cm alpines. Delamore and Van Vliet will also have large displays.
There will be a selection of organic growers. Bettaland, best known as a supplier of organic, peat-free compost and growing media, is offering an A-Z range of peat-free nursery stock. Exhibitors are keen to show products for the grow-your-own market. Beekenkamp has a "Home and Garden Vegetable" line.
Four Oaks is traditionally a good place for anyone wanting to source Christmas trees. Evergreen and Eden Park can supply Fraser and Nordman fir for the Christmas market. All of which means that, from one end of the year to the other, there should be plenty of plants for the retailer or professional nursery manager.
INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW
- Farplants will be introducing Nemesias Framboise and Mirabelle, which will flower repeatedly and are brightly coloured. The company predicts that these plants will be particularly popular because they are semi-hardy and will survive a mild winter. Framboise has been produced from Martine and Chris Tellwright's breeding programme in West Sussex.
- Kernock Park Plants has launched Britains's first dwarf Buddleja 'Buzz' and the Supertunia 'Pretty Much Picasso', which has eye-catching purple blooms edged in lime green. The Buddleja comes in striking shades of lavender and magenta and the blooms have tiny points of yellow and purple in the centre of each floret.
INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW
- Elsner PAC from Dresden will have new Pelargoniums on display. Most notable is the PAC TWOinONE hybrid, which has pink semi-double flowers carried above small dark-green leaves. It is very early flowering and has a well rounded plant habit.
- Ball Colegrave will be offering a range of trailing pansies that can be grown from seed. The small-flowered pansy F1 Plentifall is ideal for baskets. The blooms are more tolerant of heat than larger-flowered types. It is available in five colours.
- Rijnbeek & Sons from Holland will introduce ranges of Echinacea and geraniums. Geranium Havana Blues starts off with yellow flowers that develop into a startling sky blue. The plant will flower almost continuously until the first frosts of autumn.
- Devon-based Dianthus breeder Whetman Pinks will offer a range of dwarf, pot and patio pinks. New this year is 'Supernova', with maroon and pink striped flowers and a compact blue-grey foliage.
- A new range of sage plants from Central America is being launched by Kiepenkerl. The Salvia Farina range is available in four colours. Plants reach a height of 40cm and the flowers appear until the first frost.
INTRODUCTIONS AT THE SHOW
- Hollyacre Plants, which is based in Chichester, will be displaying a range of 14 new petunias that are all grown in pots. These "Potunias", as they are known, can flourish with relatively little sunlight. This means that the plants can be sold in flower from as early as March. The company will also be showing its range of 18 hardy garden Gerberas.
- GGG Grunewald, which sells cuttings and unfinished plants, has a variety of new offerings including some sun-resistant Fuschias. It also has an exciting range of compact, early-flowering petunias that are deal for borders, patios and planters. Sunflower Yellow Circle features purple flowers with yellow edging and can be grown to finish in four weeks.
- Kiepenkerl has the bright-yellow 'Begonia Beluga', which is drought-resistant and has full-bodied, well-branched blooms. The blooms are disease-resistant and will flower until first frost. The compact flowers are ideal for hanging baskets and window boxes. They are available as plugs and are ready for sale after only 10 or 12 weeks.