Paul Rochford of Joseph Rochford Gardens Ltd tells Ruth Hayes why garden centres should be reclassified as 'essential'
It is perfectly safe for garden centres to reopen, according to one of the UK’s leading plant wholesalers.
Paul Rochford, director of Joseph Rochford Gardens Ltd, believes that garden centres and nurseries need to be reopened to the public to reduce the negative economic impact on the horticultural industry as a whole.
There are fears that if the lockdown persists, millions of plants – especially summer bedding – will have to be pulped, and the livelihood of tens of thousands of people could be lost.
“A lot has been said about opening garden centres and to be honest, I think they are safer than supermarkets,” said Paul.
“Can they be opened? Of course they can! People say it isn’t safe for older people, but I disagree – they still go to the supermarket! If you put the right security in place it is wrong to keep them closed.
“Close the cafes, close the play areas and put the necessary two-metre markings on the floors and off you go. Maybe older people shouldn’t go, but if that’s going to be the way it is, say something about it and explain your reasoning.”
Paul added that Belgian garden centres have reopened and those in Holland have remained open throughout the Coronavirus emergency.
He said that the Dutch government have given bedding growers financial help worth up to 70% of this year’s bulb and plant harvest.
“Our civil servants take the view that we are still part of Europe and must follow the rules, but the Dutch have said ‘stuff the rules, these people need our support because they are a huge part of our exports’ and sort the rest out later. They look after their people,” Paul added.
He is echoing the calls of many people in the horticultural industry including Alan Titchmarsh, a former deputy editor of Amateur gardening, who has also been calling for the horticultural lockdown to be eased to keep the industry alive.
Further requests for the lockdown to end have been made by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, one of the UK’s oldest gardening charities, and the Worshipful Company of gardeners, which supports the work and welfare of all people working in horticulture.
These two organisations have written to the Rt Hon George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking that garden centres are reopened as essential services.
The letter from the Worshipful Company says: “We risk losing up to 50% of the entire UK horticultural industry; this will span grower, garden centres, landscapers, gardeners, parks and many more.
“It will mean redundancies for staff with little or no hope of jobs returning. This is the most important time of year for our industry: plant movements from our growers to our garden centres to the public SHOULD be at their greatest over the coming weeks. Amenity planting SHOULD be in full swing.
“Depending how long closures continue, stock will perish and many businesses will not be able to start trading when they reopen. Current stock will have become waste; investment in that stock will have become a debt, and income will be non-existent.”
The letter from the metropolitan Public gardens Association adds: “It surely cannot be the aim of Government to put out of business a sizeable proportion of the nurserymen and growers that are the backbone of this Country’s horticultural industry at their busiest time of the year and at a time when they are needed most.”
Around 650 businesses produce ornamental crops for garden centres and wholesale suppliers and employ more than15,000 people directly, 30,000 indirectly. The collapse of the industry would be catastrophic and could wipe up to £1 billion off the UK economy.
We contacted George Eustice for comment but have yet to hear back.
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