Easter sales reach double those of 2016 as fine weather leads to plants boom

Garden centre sales of plants have led the way as a bright Easter weekend brought out gardeners.

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker spoke to BBC Radio Five (play clip below) who had picked up on Horticulture Week reports.

He said sales were 40% up because of the weather and it had been a "great start to the year" and a "good gardening year", with "plants selling well when the weather is right". He said footfall was not at its highest but serious gardeners were buying plants in earnest. Bunker added that if it had been five degrees warner all records could have been broken but as it was, having Easter in mid April rather than 25-28 March in 2016 had helped planteria sales "exactly double" last Easter. But he said sales were in the top five best ever.

Bunker said in 38 years in the garden centre industry, the weather had always outweighed the economic climate although he admitted Brexit and the exchange rate changes it has produced has led to increased prices for imported plants of a "small percentage".

He said he had 20 staff looking after plants and the service garden centres offer beats the "big boys coming into the industry", who "pile it high and sell it cheap". He said there was a correct perception that garden centres give good value and advice.

Bunker said temperatures over Easter were not high enough to mean barbecues and garden funiture sales soared but plants sold well, with the biggest competitor at Easter being DIY stores.

Blue Diamond's Alan Roper also spoke to the station about his positive sales for 2017.

Ansell Garden Centre's Paresh Raithatha said being able to open on Easter Sunday did in the end mean he broke Easter weekend records. He said social media campaigns meant "lots of new customers who had not been in before".

He said sales would be up in April on a "reasonable" month in 2016 despite only being able to sell from outside as his buildings burnt down in November 2016. He said plant sales "shone" with "summer bedding kicking in" and herbs and herbaceous selling well.

Buckingham Garden Centre's Chris Day said "mainstay evergreens" such as Photinia Red Robin, Ilex crenata and some box sizes were difficult to source, which is "frustrating" and "unprecedented" but he suspects have been caused "through sheer demand". He said the answer was to keep options open as his Dutch supply was drying up, which he wondered might also have a Brexit link.

Day said sales had been "very encouraging" for the last few weeks" and plants were selling "across the board" with grow you own, seeds, perennial shrubs, climbers and particularly trees for new housing doing best.

Dobbies chief executive Nicholas Marshall said: "Sales over Easter have gone very well indeed."

Blue Diamond's Alan Roper said: "Easter trade was all good because it’s obviously better weather than last year this time and Easter is later so figures all look impressive so far this year.

"I'm more interested in how the full season will turn out and we are about to hit the big months that were May, June and July last year when the season exploded. Last year was a good year so let’s wait and see what the full season picture looks like in July. I am not going to call this a great season just yet let’s see what may bring."

In the week to April 15, Waitrose retail director Ben Stimson said: "Many chose to spend time in their gardens with horticulture performing well. Outdoor plant sales rose by 57%."

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