Speaking on Tuesday, March 9, James Barnes, Chairman of the HTA said: “Today we were hoping for action from the First Minister that would provide some certainty and confidence to Scottish horticulture. It is clearly frustrating that the decision is passed over for yet another week.
Businesses across the sector are struggling in the face of a second year of unrecoverable costs and further uncertainty about the future; garden centres should be classed as essential and able to trade, as they were before Christmas and as they are south of the border.
Key representatives from within the Scottish horticultural sector have published an open letter to the Scottish Government calling on them to reopen centres before the end of March, saying: “Horticulture has a vital role to play in keeping people at home; rebuilding a society which recognises the benefit of connecting with nature and growing the ‘green economy’ which underpins the Scottish Government’s environmental action plans.”
According to the letter, the ornamental horticulture sector contributes £2.2bn directly to Scottish GDP and supports over 50,000 jobs in Scotland. The classification of Scottish garden centres was changed from ‘essential’ to ‘non-essential’ in the latest lockdown, but growers had already planted crops for spring and garden centres – classified as essential from May to December – had bought stock which they are now having to dispose of with no route to market.
Garden centres provide the ideal starting point for getting retail re-opened, with their naturally large and airy environments, which can easily be tailored for socially distant shopping. They enable people to access what is needed to take part in an activity that is good for their mental and physical wellbeing.
Certainty around reopening is needed for the Scottish horticulture grower sector who have invested in plants to sell, watching the key Spring season rapidly approach, but with no outlet for their plants – every day matters to their businesses. Reopening now will ensure the sector can support a post-Covid economic recovery”.
Garden centres in Wales are similarly desperate to reopen as counterparts over the border in England benefit from strong February and March sales.
Welsh garden centres have been forced onto an uneven playing field as neighbouring English centres have been allowed to stay open during lockdown. Supermarkets everywhere, meanwhile, are raking in huge profits and many are extending their horticultural and almost every other item you could usually find in your local garden centre or nursery.
As we approach what is traditionally the busiest time of year for garden centres and nurseries, the start of the spring growing season, independent businesses are in anguish about having to keep their doors closed while retail giants hoover up their trade.
Meanwhile in England, the HTA Market Update report for March shows nationally sales of garden/gardening categories were 69% up in February 2021 compared to the same month of last year, helping to mitigate the impacts of closed catering outlets. Average Transaction Values were up 79% on February 2020 as consumers started to prepare for the warmer spring months and the new rules permitting garden socialisation at end of March.
Importantly, three-quarters of British adults now state they feel confident visiting a garden centre, the highest level recorded since September 2020.