Sunday 20 September 2015

A visit to Four Oaks Nursery Trade Show

Boy’s day out
Peter suggested that I might like a trip over the Pennines to the trade exhibition and I jumped at the chance. The main show of the year for the nursery trade has been held on the same twenty three acre nursery site for 46 years now. It must be thirty years since I have been to anything like it. Just to see a huge area covered with modern glasshouses is exciting and it is a revelation to see methods of modern large scale production.

We drove down to Bakewell and deposited Julie and Brenda. We would later retrieve them in Buxton at Peter’s daughters'.  We enjoyed a coffee before leaving the girls. When we asked the cafĂ© owner if he sold Bakewell tart he replied in the negative and claimed to have been out with too many!

We were then on our own and talked gardening, horticultural science and blogging none stop all the way over. Peter’s sat-nav took us a delightful rural route and the first evidence of the show was when we arrived and joined the huge car park of thousands of cars in a huge field next to the Jodrell Bank telescope. I dread to think how they must manage all those cars after heavy rain.

Everyone in professional ornamental horticulture goes. The garden centre and nursery traders order their plants and sundry supplies for the year. Horticultural producers meet their suppliers and purchase their materials and equipment. The displays are as lavish as Chelsea. Nursery suppliers from all over the world are there. Forty percent of nursery stock now comes from Europe and every large European wholesale nursery has a presence.
Everything was on a large scale and mainly under cover of glasshouses. Here 'Juakali’ displayed more than a hundred African inspired model animals
Much horticultural production now takes place in huge specialized nurseries. In some cases we are talking about millions of plants and growing methods are extremely refined. I think many amateur gardeners seek to copy the commercial trade’s methods and in my opinion this is ill advised. For example the trade’s choice of fertilisers and composts are extremely precise. Efforts by the amateur to duplicate this is both uneconomic and ineffective. Many ‘special composts’ and ‘targeted fertilisers’ available at the garden centre are inferior and inappropriate and hugely expensive.
Nor would I advise amateurs to attempt grower’s extreme hygiene and prophylactic spraying! As to mechanized irrigation, give me a can and a hosepipe for the wide range of plants I grow. All have very different watering requirements. I feel many gardeners play at being professional.

A taste of the show

Machines can pot several thousands of plants in an hour
The proprietor of ‘Weathervane plants’, aka Peter Williams is a keen grafter and admired these magnolias. He really did once have his own nursery and his plants are wonderful value and are sold at his May Open day and other Open Gardens in Yorkshire

Success or failure of newly bred varieties often these days depends on whether they fit and travel well on a Dutch trolley. New varieties tend to be shallow!
See what I mean. Colourful new varieties on Mole Seed’s stand.
Modern environment control can be very sophisticated. To me it’s a fog

The displays are of the standard of Chelsea. Although tens of thousands attended there was plenty of room to step back to take my pictures
Many stands displayed high quality conifers. It looks that these fine plants may be returning to fashion

I understand that these are part of the proprietor’s private collection

The catering facilities were excellent and cheap. Note the sophisticated shading system that can be turned on or off at the press of a button

Modern potting machines pot many thousand plants in an hour

Few good college horticulture courses are available these days. Hadlow College has an excellent reputation. When I retired I had a very happy time when I worked for them on their then contract to educate Homebase garden centre staff

Yaramila fertilizer is the general fertilizer that I use and recommend. Although the trade has the choice of many different analyses and variations just one general analysis purchased in 25 kg bags at about £25 is the best policy for we domestic gardeners for almost all of our fertilizer needs.  Ordinary garden centres do not sell it!

There are many fine hydrangeas available these days
Although amateurs eschew peat composts they are widely used in the trade.
Plant breeders have not yet produced varieties of impatiens resistant to downy mildew but so few are now grown that if you plant them they are not very likely to become infected

Let’s hope that box caterpillar does not make a visit

I could not resist a second picture of box topiary

Lovely carnations

Not my kind of thing but very impressive topiary

This reptile would look great with my giant ten foot high gunnera
We fell in love with her

Jim at Mole Seeds
There is a sub story here! Back in Bolton Percy, Jim sought me out when I was working in the cemetery garden early last year. He had just moved into my old house in the village. He took me back for a coffee and gave me a tour of the house and garden. It emerged he worked for Mole Seeds. Although their main market is commercial growers they also supply amateurs and their minimum order is pre vat only ten pounds. They have a brilliant catalogue and instructive web presence. Their smallest and extremely generous packets cost a little more than other seedsman but I take the view that virtually all seed is viable in at least the second year. Fifty F1 hybrid tomato seeds, for example, at perhaps four pounds a packet lasts me ten years.
I asked Jim about the cowboys I have recently discovered selling repackaged seed on the net. A dubious practice but tempting at 99 pence for a packet of ten F1 hybrids.
Things go full circle and Jim is now one of the keen and knowledgeable volunteers who help me in the cemetery garden.
I call him Mr Mole!

'Mr Mole' posed for a picture

I should have tried Mole Seeds’ sample tomatoes and found if they were as tasty as my own
The chief buyer for ‘Brook Horticulture’ kept his wallet closed

You might like to read about
My Yaramila fertilizer
Why one sack of compound fertiliser will fulfill most of your needs
When you should use peat


  1. Sounds like a very interesting experience - getting the inside story on the tricks of the trade. I bet there are lots of practices that a best kept concealed from the general public! I think there must be a huge difference between amateur horticulture and the quantity-production methods used by big businesses.

  2. I don't think much is concealed from the public in any secretive way, its just that many things in mass production is not appropriate at home. That is not to say that there are not things we cannot learn from skilled growers.

    I know Cheshire is a long way from you Mark but I reckon if you registered as a gardening journalist you would be eligible to attend.

  3. Four Oaks isn't far from me so I and a friend, who specialised in indoor displays for commercial buildings, used to go. It is many years since I last went, at least twenty, and your pictures show it has certainly expanded massively. Perhaps I will give it a go next year.

    1. Might see you there then Rick! There were a lot of things we missed.

  4. Didn't you buy something nice for Brenda?

    I'm looking fr red perennials that will flower late summer as my red and yellow bed is distinctly yellow at the moment - any suggestions?


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...