The Garden Centre industry is very seasonal and the Coronavirus lock-down came at possibly the worst time of year to disrupt spring plant production. In mid March, all the signals were there to suggest that the UK would have to reduce the movement of people in a similar way to what we were seeing in Italy and throughout Europe. When the lock-down was announced on the Friday before it was to start, it was clear that all retail stores that were not primarily selling groceries or hardware, would be shut. Shut if not indefinitely, then at least until the end of August, which was as far as the Government’s furlough was planned to last. That appeared to signal the end of the spring and summer plant sales.
While most work was meant to continue, from home if no longer at the office, those producing perishable goods had to close immediately and furlough their staff. This included almost all plant nurseries. The National Press gave good coverage to the plight of nurseries who had stock ready to sell that might only last weeks before having to be thrown away. Bedding plant nurseries stopped sowing seeds and locked-down, assuming that the spring would be written off.
A few weeks later, it became clear that online retailers were allowed to continue to sell and that Garden Centres could continue to sell to the public providing the plants were either delivered to customers directly or collected from the door, in what has become known as Click & Collect.
Garden Centres with an on-line presence were swamped and others, like ourselves, scrambled to either man the phones or build an instant web shop or order lists. This took a few weeks to get off the ground but when it did, the nurseries were caught off guard. They scrambled to get re-started but already, the important weeks of production had been lost.
A combination of beautiful weather and so many people being confined to their gardens meant that demand for compost, bedding plants and shrubs went sky high. All of a sudden, the two weeks that had passed left bedding plant nurseries sold out of their early crop and with nothing coming on behind to replace them.
Stocks of bedding plants are now low and it is likely to be 2 or 3 weeks before there is the availability that we would normally expect at this time of year. By then it may be too late for many to consider planting bedding?
Luckily, there is a plentiful supply of shrubs and perennial plants that have built up in the good weather and are now in full flower and waiting to be bought.
Please don’t expect this spring to be quite the same as normal but as supply lines get back to normal, Garden Centres should have a plenty of shrubs & perennials and this year should be a vintage summer in the garden after all the effort people have put in to their gardening so far.