Landscape Event 2018
What is the magical ingredient that makes a trade show worth attending? I’ve racked my brains over this puzzle for years and I’m no closer to a definitive answer, but whatever it is, the latest iteration of Landscape Event has it by the bucketload.
But how? From a superficial glance, it shouldn’t work, there’s too much stacked against it: it’s incredibly London-centric; it’s staged in a big tent in a park right in the heart of the busy city; there are none of the BIG names exhibiting; it’s ridiculously skewed towards soft-landscaping and garden design. And yet….!
For me, the exhibitor list is always the determining factor as to whether it’s going to be worth dragging my aged and knackered carcase away from its Northern hovel. I have a particular figure of what I consider to be top-notch exhibitors that need to be on the list for me to consider attending. I’d reached that breakthrough number in the first quarter of the list published much earlier in the summer, so it was never in doubt that I’d be turning up, even if I did manage to cock-up the train times and only get four very short but fun-packed hours on site.
The key thing in that exhibitor list was the presence of impressive new names – names that aren’t new to me, but new to the event itself, and top of that list is Pavestone. They are a significant, nationwide distributor with a well-established presence amongst merchants and suppliers, and a good reputation for quality and value amongst installers. So, they have to be regarded as a major ‘catch’ for the event.
Commercial director, Jon Layton, was quite clear about the objective: establishing face-to-face contact with installers, designers and other end-users of their range of paving and hard-landscaping products. They already have close relationships with their merchants but this event offers an opportunity to put a human face to the company for all those that design with and/or actually lay the Pavestone products.
For all sorts of reasons, many contractors would like to buy direct from Pavestone, and as simple as that sounds, the way the construction materials market works in Britain makes that far more complex than it really ought to be. The power of the merchants allows them to zealously protect their position as inescapable middlemen between manufacturers and end-users, but Jon reckons they have a workaround, and it’s all down to their new Paving Direct website.
In essence, the buyer chooses and orders their paving, walling or whatever from this new Pavestone-owned-and-managed website and then, behind the scenes, the Pavestone elves work their magic to placate the merchants and ensure the orders are fulfilled, and all with no need for the buyer to have to wander into a forbidding merchants yard and risk being made to look foolish or amateurish in front of hairy-arsed builders.
Yes – we know it’s not a radically new idea, but what is impressive is the depth of support information and technical back-up which Pavestone provide via the website, guidance that would never be forthcoming from Spotty Darren behind the counter at the aforesaid yard. Even for those with no qualms about going in to a local branch and making an order, the website is worth a visit if only to check the tech info.
And take a peek at their PointFix jointing mortar, a two-part genuine epoxy mortar made in Britain. Its big advantage is that there’s no need to mix a full bucket: you can mix as much or as little as is required and safely store the remainder until needed (well, for a while, anyway). It can be brushed-in wet or dry – I’d always go wet, for what it’s worth – and then tooled to a neat and tidy finish. Three colours available, and it’s a product I’ll definitely be investigating further.
Another bigger name that’s new to the fray is Castacrete under the new leadership of Neil Finn. As a (possibly) envious competitor said, it’s like Porcelain City over there!
For this show, Castacrete decided to focus more or less completely on their massively expanded offering of Italian porcelain from leading manufacturer Granulati Zandobbio. This particular porcelain producer is hugely admired in that there Italy and they have a simply stunning show garden cum display area right alongside the main motorway between Bergamo and Brescia in northern Italy – well worth a visit if you’re ever in that area. So, Castacrete have been able to take advantage of that unchallengeable Italian know-how and experience with porcelain and add it to their own range of imported stone and cast concrete (can you see where the name came from) paving and walling products.
The range is just mind-blowing, far too big to do justice to in a review such as this, so you’ll have to track down the website and familiarise yourselves from there. However, one item in particular definitely needs mentioning: 30mm thick porcelain for driveways.
Some folk don’t realise that porcelain paving is perfectly suitable for use on residential driveways: they think it’s a patio-only product, but that is so far from the case. Porcelain is incredibly tough and has amazing tensile strengths that render it more than suitable for use on a typical driveway. In fact, porcelain is so tough we don’t really need the 20mm thickness that has become the standard for patios and pathways – 10mm would be plenty – it really is that tough! However, the patio-buying public don’t share my confidence and so the trade has settled on a 20mm unit as the standard to help prevent the uneducated Joe Public from worrying themselves sick.
And if we don’t need 20mm for patios, I’m not at all convinced we need 30mm for a driveway. Given the right base, and the correct method of installation, 20mm would be plenty for driveways…and again, there’s a case that even 10mm would be more than adequate, as long as the sub-layers are correct.
Anyway, Castacrete have gone 30mm and I’m sure that will reassure the more nervous amongst the general public and give them the necessary faith to have a whole new look to their driveway, something that’s not blacktop, resin, sandstone or block paving!
Have Castacrete hit on a winner here? Will it give them a commercial advantage, or will the other ceramic suppliers (and there are new ones coming into the market more-or-less every day at the moment) simply advise that their existing 20mm products are ample? Only time will tell, and I will be watching developments with fascination.
Plenty more porcelain to see elsewhere, of course, and perennial exhibitors Global Stone have a gorgeous new range that revels in the name of Trovia. One in particular, which Marketing Supremo Sara tells me is as yet unnamed, really caught my eye, with its flashes of blued steel, and chevron patterning. Just how it would look over a larger area, I’m not completely sure, but as a contrast edge or detail piece, it’s a real thing of beauty.
And almost a blast from the past – Terrazzo paving, proper Terrazzo styling in flagstone format. Lovely clean background speckled with sharp, dark aggregate and then honed and polished to a lovely smooth finish. Maybe it is a little bit retro, but I don’t think that will be an issue. The colour palette is bang on trend and this could be the antidote we’ve been looking for to the bland, homogenous "500 Shades of Grey" porcelain. Just one size for now, but who knows what might happen if it proves to be as popular as I hope it will be.
Could it even appear as a hexagon? During the course of of regular ‘putting the (paving) world to rights’ discussion, Global’s MD, Julian Wood and meself pondered on the stubborn, yet inexplicable peculiarly British attitude to non-rectangular paving. As long as it’s a square or an oblong, we’ll buy and install more-or-less anything, whereas almost everywhere else in the world, they’ll experiment with more than four sides: six sides; eight sides, sixteen sides, even. I’ve seen paving in mathematically tortuous but tessellating shapes and paving in seemingly random shapes. It all adds to the merriment, but not on this island, apparently. Hexagon flagstones were a thing in the 1980s – never massively popular but selling enough to appear in the brochures of the biggest manufacturers. And now? Not a one to be seen anywhere. Strange!
London Stone went for the same minimalist style as last year’s exhibition. Plain white walls with offcuts of various products blu-tacked on and defying gravity. I like the idea of bringing the products up to human level – it renders them so much more tactile – but do we really get a true sense of the product with these small pieces? And the samples table, while great for instigating discussion, has even smaller pieces to be manhandled (or womanhandled, as the case often is). I can’t even recall what was on the floor….which awkwardly suggests it was either completely nondescript or so awful it has been expunged from my memory. I doubt the latter, as London Stone tend not to do ‘awful’.
The one product that did catch my eye is a "Millboard" item that has a damned good go at replicating a charred railway sleeper. Amazingly accurate and realistic texture combined with authentic and convincing colouring but, as with so many Millboard products, the comparative paucity of size options could restrict its potential. It’s decking and it’s difficult to make it look like anything other than decking. I’m sure that’s enough for many users, but there could be so much more done with additional size formats. Or so I think!
One more paving supplier of note, and that’s CED who had also opted for a sort of minimalist look, well, minimalist by CED standards with almost all of the double-size display area paved with a single type of stone – Moleanos, the Portuguese limestone that surprises many by exceeding what we expect for a keenly-priced European limestone.
Other suppliers have offered this creamy, cottage-cheesey limestone previously but given up on it far too soon, I feel. It’s right on trend just now, especially for the bi-fold door brigade, but it should be used more widely. It’s a lovely, light and airy stone, and if we really are going to face many more of these scorchio summers, then we are going to have to use less of the darker granites and porcelains that have dominated the market for far too long, and look for paler, light- and heat-reflecting alternatives. Maybe *now* the time is right for Moleanos?
Yorkstone Supplies are another new exhibitor: can you guess what they do? New yorkstone from their quarry in Southowram, near Halifax, and elsewhere in Yorkshire, plus reclaimed yorkstone from thereabouts and further afield.
The reclaimed material will, of course, vary considerably and they've graded it into four fairly loose categories. One man's so-called 'Cathedral Grade' is another man's Street flag, as far as I can tell! Reclaimed yorkstone is a rapidly vanishing commodity but the prices they are quoting should help maintain stocks that little bit longer. I know the reclaimed stone sells for seriously silly money in that London, but up in the Pennine heartlands, the prices are much more reasonable and no-one with any sense from either Lancashire or Yorkshire will be buying at those quoted prices. Yet another bonus to living in t'north!
On the plus side, there are so many rogues and drive-bandits in the reclaimed yorkstone trade right now that having a respectable and above-board supplier has to be a boon and that, alone, will surely encourage those concerned with provenance to pay what could be seen as a reasonable premium to be sure the Boys in Blue won’t be coming around to re-reclaim their recently-installed reclaimed paving!
Grundon supply aggregates and their big seller is the celebrated self-binding gravel, Coxwell, which is enormously popular in the south and west of England. They have several other products, including a distinctive red-pink fine gravel sold as RedPath, and they tell me they had been challenged recently that the RedPath is NOT a self-binding gravel. What did I think?
Well, how do we define self-binding, and where is the cut-off point between a self-binding gravel and a non-binding gravel? For me, there is a continuum from the incredibly tight, intensely binding, almost-like-concrete SBGs and the impossible-to-bind, loose-as-a-goose pea gravels, and somewhere along that continuum is the cut-off point, but I wouldn’t like to say exactly where that point lies, and with what product.
I’d certainly say that RedPath is not quite as self-binding as Coxwell, but it is more-or-less self-binding. It’s easier to loosen following wetting and compaction, and it scuffs that bit more readily, but it is, just about, on the SBG side of that cut-off pint while Coxwell is very much way beyond the cut-off point.
An interesting philosophical discussion, especially as the vexed subject of why the despicable Hoggin is still specified on some projects had arisen only last week in a discussion with Capel Manor design students, but probably one that only really appeals to anoraks such as me and the fine fellows at Grundon.
Core Landscape Products provide a wide range of what we might refer to as hard landscape accessories. These include cell pavers , geo-textiles, CNC Corten Steel screens, and, most interestingly to me just now, steel edgings not too dissimilar to a certain well-known brand that chooses not to exhibit at this show.
There’s a better understanding of steel edging systems nowadays, and so demand has grown. What was once the preserve of raised lawn edges has found new uses with resin bound surfaces, permeable gravel surfaces, and even with block paving where a discreet edge restraint ensures vegetation grows right to the boundary.
Core LP offer a range of steel edgings that should meet most needs, and when supplemented with their other products, it’s quite an interesting portfolio that should be on the radar, at the very least, of any serious landscaper, paving installer or designer.
Star Uretech have treated themselves to a mini-makeover by re-branding their highly impressive range as 'StarScape'. It makes sense, without doubt, as it retains the key “Star” brand, emphasises its relevance to the landscape industry, and downplays the scary science bit about urethane technology.
An eye-catching stand, to say the least, and with no other resin surfacing supplier/distributor/manufacturer of any consequence at the show, they were constantly bombarded by potential clients seeking further information on what is one of the fastest growing sectors of the paving and surfacing industry.
And information is what Star are very, very good at providing. They have an unrivalled knowledge of the chemistry that is required for a successful resin, whether it’s as a binder or a bonding agent, and to back this up, there’ll be some interesting technical material uploaded to the website in the very near future.
They also win the prize for best Freebie at the show – an intriguing aluminium tube-like flask bunged with a chunky cork, but what does it contain? Add a few drops of water and in a short while you’ve a lovely floral desktop decoration. Not much of a connection to resin surfacing, admittedly, but a very pleasant change from the usual product-themed memory sticks (I’ve a drawer full of them!) and personalised biros. I also managed to blag a branded StarScape cup for my ever-growing collection of corporate chinaware.
The only other ‘resin’ centred company I came across is Lankysheer’s very own John Stafford with his not-to-be-underestimated Resiply jointing mortar. John’s now brought in his son to help with the growth in demand, and both report being delighted with the response on the first day of the show, far better, it seems, than what they anticipated.
Resiply’s route to success has succeeded primarily by focussing on one key product of quality, the jointing mortar, and not letting the accessory and subsidiary products dilute their efforts at providing what has to be acknowledged as a bloody great value-for-money two-part resin mortar that really performs.
I’m so glad to see John and Resiply thriving after an undeservedly poor response to their outing at UK Construction Week last year. This is a classic example of why a tightly focussed show, such as this, is of far greater benefit to those in our trade than the scattergun style of a big national show that tries (and fails) to be all things to all people.
On the way out, dashing for my all-too-premature train, I was accosted by a couple of boyoes from Miles Stone, a company that’s new to me and one that has been asking me to publish my review of their brochure for the past few months.
I did explain that, with the all-new website held up by a will-o-the-wisp surf-dude web monkey with no actual connection to the real world nor any understanding of the term "deadline", I’ve been waiting for the new site to be ready before uploading the review, which was written way back at the beginning of August.
If I can’t get this long-on-promises-short-on-action chimp of a developer to complete the new site by the end of the month, I’ll upload the review anyway and deduct it from his banana ration.
Sorry I missed Kebur and Westminster Stone, Barleystone and Azpects, Lithofin and God knows who else. It’s not deliberate and there is no favouritism at play. I genuinely try to get time with everyone and anyone of consequence, but if the stand is crammed when I saunter by, I don’t like to drag folk away from a potentially valuable lead just so I can bore them with my monomaniacal chatter. The trick is, as several exhibitors have realised over the years, to collar me when you see me or ply me with strong tea – that usually works!
This show is the best event, by some way, that we have just now for those of us on the hard side of the great landscape divide. Not that there’s much in the way of competition, mind. At the big shows, such as EcoBuild, UK Construction Week and so on, paving and hard-landscaping is barely recognised and there’s a good case to be made that the discipline is actually treated with contempt. Other, more focussed shows are either too regionally specific or so vague that anything with a tenuous connection to ‘landscape’ can appear.
However, Landscape Event has evolved and while it does have an admittedly wide yet biased-towards-softscapes agenda, there is enough of the hard stuff to provide a good day’s entertainment for anyone with an interest. And, for 2018, we are starting to see more and more of the bigger names putting in an appearance. That, if nothing else, surely indicates the organisers are doing something right!
Bring on 2019!