Four Oaks has a huge range of plant accessories, garden and novelty products aimed at the garden centre market. It has also become a major forum for new equipment for the professional grower.
Fargro, one of the leading suppliers of gardening sundries, has become a regular fixture at the show. This year it is taking seven stands. Marketing officer Sonia Mullineux explains: "For us, it is the best show in the calendar. It's very well organised, it's a great place to reach the market and it allows us to support our distributors."
For many visitors, the show offers an opportunity to inspect the various ranges of pots and planters available. This year Fargro expects to sell large numbers of pots, both in wicker and decorated plastic. There is also a wealth of extremely stylish planters. Elho has produced its Pure range, which is stylish, UV-resistant and unbreakable. Its Milano range is intended for indoor use and has its own watering system.
Desch Plantpak is offering the E-PLA range of round and square containers in a wide variety of colours. French company Soparco has a selection of production pots and hanging planters, while Snap Dragon is offering fibre clay pots made from natural materials. H Smith Plastics will be showing a variety of practical containers and seed trays. Scandinavian firm FloraDECO will exhibit its inventive selection of ceramic, zinc and plastic containers.
Crescent Garden Pots and LS Systems are among the companies supplying pots. Rustic Garden Supplies is offering tubs, troughs and basket ware, much of which is intended to be used as planters.
Many of the industry giants are exhibiting. Spear & Jackson will be showing its new Razorsharp cutting tools and equipment aimed at the grow-your-own market. Drapers will provide a huge range of gardening tools such as secateurs and weeding equipment.
There are plenty of novelty items designed to promote impulse buys. Plant Partners from Denmark has introduced some self-watering pots to stop plants from drying out, Dutch Imports & Daughters has an interesting range of ornaments including birdcages and pottery, and the Natural Cone & Fruit Company will be selling dried fruits, pine cones and wreaths. Allensmore Nurseries is also offering attractive items for the Christmas market, including wreaths and perennial plants.
Some of the items are unashamedly designed to appeal to the customer's sense of fun. Vivid Arts has an amusing range of cast resin ornaments including a meerkat wearing a tuxedo. A Bit Quackers has novelty creatures - cats, pigs, rabbits, toadstools and gnomes - all cast in resin. On similar lines, Hortivate has bird feeders, wicker items and garden ornaments such as smiling frogs made in resin or wood.
Red Barn is selling its range of products for gardeners who love wild birds. This includes not only bird feeders but various types of bird food and even meal worms. Kernel Feeders is also offering a variety of feeders and foods for birds. It will be promoting its range of squirrel-proof feeders.
Seed companies are cashing in on the trend towards edibles. Moles Seeds has a range of Mediterranean vegetables in its Bel Gusto collection, as well as striking bi-colour petunias. Kings Seeds is offering organic seed, packed for the retail market. Meanwhile, big names such as Thompson & Morgan will be offering a full range including a large number of edibles.
Because of the number of garden chemicals that are no longer available, an increasing number of biological controls are selling to hobby gardeners. Becker Underwood and Fargro are among the firms offering products suitable for edibles.
A number of exhibitors will also be showing artificial plants and grass. Evergreen from North Yorkshire will be offering high-quality synthetic grass and topiary.
To cash in on the interest in organic products, Vital Earth has launched its "Chicken Poo" fertiliser, available in branded bags. Martin Lishman of Lincolnshire is offering the special peat-free compost tea compost. Catering to the increasing number of people growing vegetables at home, Lover Peat has produced a specialised gro-bag that comes complete with a range of organic nutrients.
Other exhibitors, such as Henry Alty, are offering more conventional composts. Hortifeeds will be offering crop-specific fertilisers and Scotts will be showing controlled release fertilisers for professionals and consumers.
ALS is offering spraying systems as well as a wide range of microbial pesticides. Yara, Solufeed and Haifa Chemicals are among the big names offering fertilisers and chemical supplements.
Melcourt is relaunching its Sylvamix range of professional peat-free growing media. First introduced to growers in 2001, when the range won the Grower of the Year Best New Product Award, it was manufactured for Melcourt by Vapogro.
Following the demise of Vapogro last year, Melcourt says it has been inundated with requests from Sylvamix users wishing to continue using the range. As a result, Melcourt has now taken the decision to invest in state-of-the-art mixing machinery and will be manufacturing the products itself.
The Sylvamix range comprises Sylvamix Potting, Nursery Stock and Natural (a Soil Association-approved organic medium). Sylvamix Special is a prescription mix service allowing growers to specify their special requirements. Melcourt says the range enables growers to produce consistently excellent plants at a cost-effective price.
There is a wide range of equipment for nurseries. Passfield Data Systems, Northwest Business Machines and Greenfield Software will be among the firms showing fully integrated software developed for horticultural nurseries. Codeway is offering its tracing and labelling system and Zallys has a range of electric utility vehicles that can carry up to 500kg.
There will also be equipment for production lines. Rotomation has tray fillers, seeding lines, potting machines and plant tray washers. Barrett of Boston is promoting its root ball shredder. Hamilton Design is exhibiting its latest range of seeders, transplanters and plant trimming machines, designed for bulk producers. Strimech Engineering will be showing its range of loading shovels and specialist attachments for horticultural tractors.
Featuring among the glasshouse manufacturers at the show will be Naturelight, which will be offering its houses with fully opening roofs. Polybuild will be showing its range of glasshouses and benching and Xpoly will be selling a wide variety of tunnel covers. Meanwhile, Fleximas and Tenax will be offering netting, screens and fabrics for the professional. Prayon and Micron Sprayers will be exhibiting their ranges of spraying equipment and H2O 2GO will be displaying a range of watering carts.
There is furniture for commercial use in garden centre restaurants or leisure areas. Anchor Fast Products has concrete and wood benches and tables that are suitable for outdoor use, while Timber Displays boasts a wide range of the display tables, benches and hanging basket stands that have become a standard feature of most garden centres.
Rite Air Heating & Engineering will be demonstrating products to ensure reasonably constant temperatures in nurseries and garden centres. For anyone wanting to convert to biomass boilers, Manco Energy will be offering a variety of boilers as well as various types of plant-derived fuel.
Container Centralen, meanwhile, is offering its services for pooling containers and trolleys so that nurseries do not have to deal with disposal or return of empty containers.
Hortipak is supplying a range of Cool-Dri clothing designed for the hot, humid conditions in glasshouses. Thermobile has a range of heavy-duty fans and heaters and Phoenix Instrumentation is providing water quality control equipment. Hortec will be exhibiting its range of Javo potting machines.
Some of the machinery is extremely specialised. Tree Fix UK, for example, sells machinery for trimming down the ends of Christmas trees to fit into conventional stands.
For growers wanting to add a touch of class to their products, TEK is offering an on-line graphic package, while Geerings of Ashford sells a variety of wrapping materials ideal for cut flowers. Kalas Packaging is offering a range of high-end packaging machinery tailored specifically for the horticultural industry.
And there are plenty of places where nurseries and retailers can get advice and professional help. The British Protected Ornamentals Association (supported by the NFU), the Commercial Horticulture Association, Global QA Consultants and the Food & Environment Research Agency will all be at the show. C Jackson & Sons, which specialises in horticultural display, has joined forces with Mike Hill and is now offering a consultancy service.
All of which makes Four Oaks into an essential one-stop shop for anyone wanting to improve or restock their garden centre - or even for those just looking for ideas.