UK horticulture sector urges Chancellor to keep garden centres open
Popularity and importance of grow your own will increase

Author: Ron van der Ploeg

DIDCOT, UK: During an address to the nation on Monday evening 23 March, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that people will only be allowed out of their homes for limited reasons including basic food shopping, exercise once a day and essential work. Under the 3-week lockdown, garden centres should officially close, but the UK garden centre chain Dobbies for example informed its customers yesterday (24 March) it was continuing to operate its stores while putting strict procedures in place to protect customers and team members. Public pressure forced them to close their stores only a few hours later. On their website it currently reads: “Following updated guidance from Government, our stores will temporarily close with immediate effect. The welfare of our customers and team members is and always will remain our number one priority.”

Meanwhile, the UK Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is calling on the government to keep garden centres open across the country. In a letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, HTA Chairman James Barnes stresses that health and well-being benefits of gardening are well-recognised, and that gardening will play a vital role in supporting a self-isolation regime.

The letter reads, “The Horticultural Trades Association is the representative body for the UK horticulture sector – spanning commercial growers, garden centres, manufacturers and domestic landscapers. The total horticulture sector, including horticulture tourism and commercial landscaping, is worth £24bn and supports over 550,000 jobs directly and indirectly. It is a sector which is an engine of growth in local communities and nationally across the UK. With the biosecurity and climate change ambitions to the fore, our industry has the potential to grow even more to create prosperity and socio-economic benefit.

“The garden industry has a degree of resilience, but these are truly unprecedented times and are stretching large and small business continuity to its limits. They are trading in perishable products and our members face a real and high danger of losing their businesses, without a level of support from the Government. Our members take all necessary and appropriate steps to protect our employees and customers in line with the latest medical advice, while being able to continue to trade and support the local communities in which they operate.

“We are entering a key trading time – the equivalent of Christmas trading for the high street retail sector. The whole of the sector works towards this crucial period. For example, 46% of total garden centre sales occur in March to June – supplied by British nurseries and garden equipment manufacturers. Nurseries are producing and shipping plants and trees to British and overseas business customers to meet demand. Domestic landscapers are at their busiest.

“The health and well-being benefits of gardening are well-recognised, and we believe gardening will play a vital role in supporting a self-isolation regime. We applaud your announcement earlier this week to provide additional financial support for British businesses but are seeking urgent discussions with you and your officials around an exemption for garden centres from non-essential closures.

“In the event of ‘non-essential’ shops having to shut, we ask that garden centres receive an exemption. They support a diverse range of communities, including in more rural and isolated areas. They are well regarded and recognised in their communities for providing employment, hubs of community engagement and a range of products and services.

“As well as plants and garden products, garden centres offer a range of food, local produce, pet essentials, and all the products around grow your own fruit and vegetables. Grow Your Own supports self-sufficiency and outdoor activity.  Some consumers already rely on it as a vital part of their lifestyle. It is expected that the popularity and importance of grow your own will increase during the coming period and therefore there needs to be a source of supply, for example seeds, compost, tools etc.  It also will help to reduce pressure on the rest of the food supply chain. We are already seeing sales of seed packets increase by 43% over the last week.

“The garden centre industry supports a much wider supply chain, which is significantly dependent on consumer sales at this key time. During this very difficult time, garden centres provide the garden products which help with mental and physical wellbeing and support the social distancing approach the Government wants us all to take.

“We would suggest a suspension of Sunday trading rules, ensuring that admission is regulated so avoiding queues and crowded premises. We note that in Germany the Federal Government have named garden centres as being an exception to the rule that all businesses which do not sell goods for everyday needs are to be closed.  We understand that the Dutch Government may be looking at similar proposals to help their horticultural industry.”