Easter weather takes toll but centre sales sufficient

Garden sector records "satisfactory" sales as wider industry takes stock of storm Katie.

Wisley: closed as storm hit - image: RHS
Wisley: closed as storm hit - image: RHS

Garden centre bosses are putting a brave face on their trading performance for the important Easter period after large parts of the UK were hit by storm Katie.

Altons Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said: "Our performance over Easter reads like a school report: 'satisfactory'. But despite the mixed weather, people were out buying. Had the sun shone on Monday it would have been a good bank holiday."

Bunker, based in Wickford, Essex, said: "Furniture sold OK on Friday and Saturday and really well on Monday. Plant sales followed the weather - it was like a warzone in the outside area on Monday but we had good sales across the board. The nice thing about this time of year is the type of plants that often sell well tend to be the bigger, more pricey ones."

Garden Centres Association chairman Julian Winfield, who also runs Haskins headquartered in Ferndown, Dorset, said: "We haven't done our Easter comparison yet, but in the week up to Easter we were 0.8% up on budgeted sales but were down over Easter. Weather was great on Friday and we were above budget. Saturday and Monday were not so good, so we didn't make our budget. But I'm still encouraged; we didn't have great expectations for Easter trading this year because of the forecast.

"Thank goodness for our restaurants. Garden centres that have diversified and have big restaurants will have done quite well - or not as badly as others. But smaller centres that are very gardening oriented will have suffered and will always be more susceptible to the ups and downs of weather."

Aylett Nurseries, near St Albans, director Adam Wigglesworth summed up Easter trade as one of "mixed fortunes", with sales down 10% on last Easter and damage including glass panes blown out of green houses. But given the bank holiday Monday was a washout, it was not a "bad result".

He said: "There was a lot of interest, the weather was good on Friday and Saturday and we were up on last year on those days. The Monday morning was bad; sadly the sun shone in the afternoon but the poor weather in the morning had put off people visiting the nurseries.

"March is a swing month, we have had terrible ones and fantastic months; we're down on last year but it's been a middle-of-the-road month for us and despite the mixed weather over Easter, it's a solid month for us."

According to a spokesman at Downtown Garden Centre in Grantham, Nottinghamshire, "the storm had a bit of an influence but we've had a cracking Easter". Meanwhile, Perrywood Garden Centre manager Simon Bourne, based in Tiptree, Essex, said: "Given the weather conditions we are very happy. We are down 5% on sales on the three days last year.

"On Monday storm-force winds had us chain sawing a tree off the road at 7am and by 8.30am I was seriously considering not opening. In the end we maxed out the car park and were more than 75% up on Easter Monday last year. So we are pretty pleased, it's better than expected. March will be comparable to last year and the Easter holidays will help. April and May could be really good."

Coolings managing director Gary Carvosso said: "Easter was OK on the Friday, followed by a very mediocre Saturday. Monday was fairly awful as the storm brought trees down across many local roads, which took all day to clear in some cases. Compared with last year however the figures cheer me up."

Plant sales rose 47%, catering sales were up 5%, shop sales also rose, by 33%, and overall total sales saw a healthy increase of 39%. However for the month of March plant sales were down 7% on last year, but total sales for the month rose 0.3%.

"This follows a fabulous January and February. An April Easter is always better and a decent April 2016 will now be dependent on warm sunshine. Over the last month almost 30 new fulland part-time staff have joined us in preparation for the spring, which has been more difficult than before.

Buckingham Garden Centre partner Pauline Brown said: "Friday trading was excellent and well up, but the weather for the other two days was atrocious, so overall trading figures are down 10%, entirely down to the weather."

Storm - Katie Storm force winds batter gardens across the UK forcing some closures and damaging trees

The highest wind speeds of 170 km/h were recorded at the Needles, to the west of the Isle of Wight. Tony Buxton of local company Groundsell Contracting, which provides a 24-hour call-out service on the island, told HW: "We got our first call at 2am on Monday, the first of more than 20 calls we attended to. Fortunately there was no serious injury or damage to property. It’s mostly fallen trees blocking the carriageway. We are still working through it, it will take a couple of days."

The RHS closed all four gardens as the worst of the storm hit. An RHS Garden Wisley spokesperson said: "Storm Katie caused minor damage to branches and leaves, with the exception of one specimen of Arbutus unedo ‘Rosea’ which was very sadly uprooted. "

Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent reopened on Monday afternoon after Kent’s tallest tree, a grand silver fir (Abies grandis), was among the conifers damaged at Bedgebury Pinetum after one of its top branches snapped in the high winds. Two large Lleyland cypresses and chestnuts also succumbed.

Gusts of 48m/h forced the National Trust’s Gunby Hall and Gardens in Lincolnshire to close on Sunday. Marketing manager Astrid Gatenby said: "The National Trust’s risk assessment is very strict that properties like us with lot of trees on site must close for visitor safety when it’s gusting that strongly."

Assistant head gardener Tasha Prosser said a storm check had turned up no major damage. In East Sussex, Great Dixter’s business manager Perry Rodriguez said: "The storm damage wasn’t too bad; we just have a few tiles missing, and there is a Crataegus planted there which had one of the branches ripped off."

The Walled Nursery in Hawkhurst, Kent, looked "like a bomb’s hit it", with the nursery’s Twitter feed showing trees down, plants upended and the ground strewn with panes of glass. And at Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants in Hampshire, owner Rosy Hardy said a shade tunnel covered just last week "obviously decided it was a parachute and ended up in the trees." The shade netting will be repurposed to protect plants at Chelsea.

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