Garden centres and plant growers fight for survival

Garden centres and plant growers are expecting to make huge losses as they can’t sell stock due to coronavirus.

Nurseries have had to close as they are not deemed essential under the Government rules on the movement of people designed to curb the spread of covid-19.
 
However, the spring is a key sales period for growers, who say they will have to throw away stock.
 
Hare Hatch Sheeplands has closed its plant nursery and coffee shop. The farm shop is open and operating a home delivery service.
 
Andy Dicks, one of the managers, said about a third of the staff had been furloughed but there were a lot of volunteers helping out.
 
He said the 100,000 geraniums in the nursery would have to be thrown away.
 
Mr Dicks said: “Most garden centres are closed and it is going to be devastating for the growing industry.
 
“We are friends with lots of local contract growers that do work for us. All those plants are going to sit in the nurseries and end up going in the dustbin.
 
“If we are all on lockdown and not allowed to move the plants there is only so long you can keep them alive.
 
“Our trade bodies are lobbying the Government because this is threatening to put most of the independent growers out of business.”
 
Sheeplands now offers dedicated priority slots at the farm shop for different customers.
 
He said: “We have too much business. We are only doing this to help out people who are vulnerable and anybody who can’t get supplies.
 
“We did 20 orders the first day and overnight it went to 100. There are a lot of elderly people that have been let down by the major supermarkets because they can’t get a delivery slot.
 
“I have had people ringing me day and night from all over the country asking if I can send out a food package to their elderly relatives who live in Twyford, Henley and Caversham.
 
“The garden centre side of things is small. We are lucky because we have only started rebuilding and it is only a small part of the current business.
 
“The biggest impact is on our growing side. We don’t know what is going to happen or how long this is going to go on for.”
 
Woodcote Nursery & Garden Centre is still open as it also sells pet supplies, hardware products and fuel. One member of staff has been furloughed. The plants are not grown on site.
 
Mike Hill, who has owned the business for 25 years and lives on site with his wife and daughter, said: “For the industry, it has been dire. The problem is getting stock. The big suppliers are not supplying anywhere, so it is getting harder. We bought in a lot more stock than we normally would because we were worried this would happen.
 
“If we can keep trading then we will sell most of what we have got but if we weren’t doing the other services we would have had to close. We take a third of our income in April and May and if we can’t stay open it won’t be good.
 
“Because we have some private reserves, we can probably weather the storm but not everyone is in that position. The industry is in dire straits.
 
“It could have a big impact, but while we are still trading, we are okay. It depends how long this goes on for.”
 
Mr Hill said one supplier had given him extra because otherwsie they would have had to throw it away. He has therefore been giving away free pot plants for every customer that spends £20.
 
Mr Hill added: “We are quite happy doing deliveries but we don’t want people queuing to get in because it is important to maintain social distancing.”
 
Playhatch Garden Centre, part of British Garden Centres, closed on March 23.
 
All the company’s sites have been shut down as this was felt to be the best way to ensure staff and customers remained healthy.
 
A spokesman said: “It became clear that to maintain safe social distancing and ensure that both our team and our customers are kept safe, we must close every garden centre.
 
“We want to take this opportunity to thank all of our team for their continued hard work during these difficult times.
 
“Please take care of each other in these unprecedented times and we look forward to seeing you as soon as it is safe to re-open.”

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