Growers and plant retailers are still waiting for the season to start properly, with an early Easter (25-29 March) of concern while the weather has yet to turn fully spring-like.
They are hoping the start-stop season will kick off at Easter but say a fixed Easter holiday would help (see box).
Growers have sold in well, however, with Suttons Nurseries saying garden centres now run down planterias for winter then restock, meaning February sales were up 20 per cent. Quality Ornamentals' Paul Brooking said: "At the moment it is really quiet." The Plantyard's Matt Graham said landscapers and cash and carry sales are doing better than those to garden centres, adding: "Garden centres are looking well set up but the common story is that customers are not going through the tills with plants."
Hillier's Lee Hopper said retailers are "waiting for a big weekend". He added that March Easters "never reach their full potential" and he backs a fixed April date. West Kington Nurseries owner Mark Jackson said the early Easter means a good weekend is less likely for garden centres.
Chapel Cottage Plants owner David Green said growers would "know where they are" with a fixed Easter. Other growers said it could be difficult to get plants to flower for Easter. Some retailers said Easter is so early they are treating it as a normal March weekend. Johnsons of Whixley agreed that a later Easter is better for the trade.
Woodlark Nurseries managing director Colin Edwards said: "I think it will be a shrub Easter. It's a bit too early for summer bedding so for us it will be pansies, violas, a bit of tete-a-tete and pot bulbs." January and February were quiet with a "shocking" pot bulb season but sales picked up after Mother's Day, which is "never great" when early, he added.
WD Smith & Son director Michael Smith said he does not programme for Easter, which is "hit and miss", and would welcome a set focus on a mid-April Easter. He programmes for the first May bank holiday. Smith added that sales are "a bit slow" but when averaged out over previous seasons are only slightly down overall so far and there has been no wastage yet.
Bransford Webbs managing director and HTA ornamentals committee chairman Geoff Caesar said: "We need to get people from the coffee shop into the planteria. It needs to warm up." More than 120 buyers were at this month's British Plant Fair, including representatives from Wyevale, Frosts and many independents, he added.
New Leaf Nursery sales manager Andrew Jeanes said: "Everyone is waiting for the weather to break." While the weather warmed up to for the first time this season last weekend (12-13 March), that has yet to translate into gardening sales.
Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said the season has started but spring has not sprung yet "because it's still too cold to get the casual gardeners out". Some weather forecasts predict a good Easter and Bunker said he believes March will be slightly up on last year. "If we do get what they are forecasting for Easter then it could be good as long as its talked about," he added.
Squire's managing director Dennis Espley said: "There were signs of growing interest in gardening product with more activity last weekend. It was a disappointing week (up until then), as were the last three. Catering is still good. Activity has not shown in cash sales - it's still a little chilly - but it's good to see the sun and the forecast improving."
A recent wintry blast saw snow in the north and frost nationwide, but temperatures could hit 14 degsC next weekend, according to the Met Office.
Fixed Easter - Consultation sees support grow for fixed date
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he wants a fixed Easter in mid April, backed by growers, during his tenure. At present, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox around 21 March, so it can be any Sunday between 22 March and 25 April.
A 1928 act of Parliament fixed Easter on the second Sunday of April, but religious groups could not agree on the date so it was never enacted. However, the Pope, Coptic Pope, ecumenical patriarch, archbishop and other Anglican leaders now support a fixed date after consultation earlier this year.
A spokesman for the archbishop said: "I don’t think what the garden centres of England want is going to carry the day, with the best will in the world, and international [religious groups’] agreement is a tall order, but it looks like it has a fair wind at the moment."