News editor Ruth Hayes looks at how the gardening industry could collapse, with millions of plants potentially facing landfill
Alan Titchmarsh MBE has spoken of the ‘heartbreak’ faced by many nursery and garden centre owners, as well as gardeners, as the horticultural industry suffers under the Covid-19 lockdown.
He says there is a very real risk that the garden industry will be ‘brought to its knees’ because people are not being allowed to go out and buy plants at the time of year when the need for sales are at their most critical.
Mr Titchmarsh, a former deputy editor of Amateur Gardening, said: “I have heard heartbreaking stories from growers and nurserymen who are likely to go out of business simply because they can’t move their stock. Late March to early June is when nurserymen and garden centres are all geared for the summer.
“We know what we want to do during this period as home gardeners, we want to brighten our gardens, cheer our lives up improve our spiritual, mental and physical health.
“At this time of Coronavirus we desperately need a respite from this life that’s not like any we have known before. To be able to go out and garden is an important part of our spiritual and physical and mental health and wellbeing – and we can’t do it.”
He added that the current situation is ‘the perfect storm’ for growers and a tragedy for gardeners who want the plants for their garden.
Around 650 businesses produce ornamental crops for garden centres and wholesale suppliers and employ more than 15,000 people directly, 30,000 indirectly. The collapse of the industry would be catastrophic and could wipe up to £1 billion off the UK economy.
A perfect storm
James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, said: “We have hit a perfect storm in the UK. The seasonality and perishability that is unique to our industry means that growers are potentially facing stock losses on an ever-rising scale as each day passes.
“Stock is one of the biggest components of asset value in the sector and stock write offs will destroy the balance sheets of many and make it impossible for them to continue. We are calling for the government to work with the HTA, as the industry’s representative body, to come up with a financial support scheme to help those businesses which have had to scrap perishable stock and are facing a huge financial crisis.”
Alan Titchmarsh said: “Bedding plants are grown for one season and there’s nothing that can be done for them. If they don’t sell between now and the beginning of June, they are worthless.
“Even the perennial plants need to be kept going, watered, grown, potted on and moved on and that’s an expensive business in terms of labour and product.
“It’s not just this year, it’s about these firms that are going to go out of business because they can’t weather the debt and as a result, in future years it will be harder for us as home gardeners to have a beautiful garden that cheers and sustains us because the supply won’t be there or have recovered.”
He added: “If something isn’t done to offer a rescue package it will be years before recovery and some firms will go to the wall. As a part of the gardening industry, I’m enormously sad about this, this is about people who do what they do because they love it.
“Gardening is a vocation you do it because you love the landscape and you love the land and you want to encourage other people to do the same and take a pride in it. It’s the sharp end of environmental care and it’s under serious threat.”
What do you think should happen to the millions of plants facing destruction? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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