Improving the supply chain for British-grown plants will have a major knock-on effect on ornamental horticulture, cutting dependence on imports, boosting employment and reducing pest and disease risks, according to UK industry leaders.
A cross-sector action plan launched on 20 May highlights fixing the supply chain as one of 12 key ways to boost the £10.4bn-a-year industry's fortunes, with the help of the Government.
HTA chief executive Carol Paris said: "Market research has shown that garden retailers rate the quality of plants supplied by British growers more highly than those supplied by overseas growers. The plants are grown here, they're hardier, they (suit) our fabulous climate.
"But the same retailers have also mentioned they need improved delivery speed and improved flexibility, and these are factors that will increase UK growers' competitiveness."
The strong pound means imports are much cheaper, with "tens of millions of pounds worth" of plants brought into the country every year, she added. Import substitution to that extent would have major benefits for employment and industry growth, as well as reducing pest and disease risks.
Plans to fix the supply chain include developing a best-practice hub as a resource for suppliers, encouraging fairness and transparency to promote competitive trading and helping pilot an online marketplace for surplus plants to increase domestic sales and reduce waste.
A new garden industry marketing board will drive the changes but the plan calls on the Government to help with funding and lead the way by using UK suppliers in publicly funded projects.
Other Government-focused "asks" from the 12-point plan include the creation of a year-long international garden expo, provision of higher-level horticultural apprenticeships, increased use of horticulture in the curriculum, more research and development funding and a review of the Sunday Trading Act.
For its part, the sector pledged to provide the Government with "robust evidence" of the benefits horticulture provides to communities, tourism, education and human health.
RHS director-general Sue Biggs said there is a false perception that horticulture only need engage with Defra, when what is needed is a cross-Government approach. The group has asked Defra to champion its causes to other Government departments and alert the industry to relevant legislative changes and potential funding streams.
The Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Action Plan is the result of six months of meetings - facilitated by Defra - between industry members including the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, Grow Careers, the Horticultural Development Company, the Horticulture Innovations Partnership, Landex, the HTA, Lantra, the NFU, the RHS and YoungHort. Other organisations including BALI have also expressed interest in joining.
The entire action plan is available online at www.the-hta.org.uk.
Garden expo - Festival idea reborn in ornamentals action plan
A new generation of garden festivals could reach the UK after leaders from across the ornamental horticulture sector launched the action plan.
The garden expo, or national garden festival idea, was introduced to the UK in the 1980s and early 1990s by then environment secretary Lord Heseltine. It led to regeneration of industrial wasteland in Liverpool, Gateshead, Stoke, Glasgow and Ebbw Vale.
Lord Heseltine said the garden festivals are as relevant today as when he introduced them because they are a "proven way of stimulating economic growth in areas which have been bypassed". The Government's devolution agenda is the way to bring back the festivals, he added. "There are areas which need an economic boost."
RHS vice-president Heseltine is a Government adviser on local devolution. He said there is "no new money" for festivals, which could cost £100m each, but that is "not the end of the story".
Bodies behind the round table action plan said tapping into apprenticeship programme money, urban renewal, NHS, business and education department money, rather than from Defra, is the way to help fund the "asks".
Heseltine said: "Horticulture has an important role to play not just at the community level but also across education, training, housing, health, business and employment. By drawing these areas together in a coherent strategy we can harness the potential of the ornamental horticultural sector."
In Liverpool people initially shouted "give us jobs not trees", he added, but "the vision proved compelling".