GCA members saw garden furniture sales rise almost 10 per cent by the end of August, while outdoor plant sales were 8.5 per cent up. Food hall and farm shop sales were 7.5 per cent up, clothing 11 per cent, catering eight per cent and houseplants by nine per cent.
HTA figures show that to the end of November garden centre sales were eight per cent up for the calendar year to date.
Spring and summer plant and outdoor living sales were well up, while non-gardening sales all showed steady gains. The year began slowly with sales down eight per cent in March according to GfK, before April saw a 10 per cent rise, leading to an eight per cent year-to-date uplift, which kept going for the rest of the season.
According to the GfK Market analysis, gardening sales were slightly positive (up +0.1 per cent in value) for Jan-Oct 15 vs. Jan-Oct 14.
GfK analyst Simon Foy said: "The total durables market declined by 0.5 per cent over this same time period so gardening as a whole has performed slightly better than average. It was of course a mixed picture throughout the year with large declines early in the year in March, which was compared to a very positive March 2014 period. Thankfully sales picked up in April and as you can see above the year to date so far is just in positive growth."
Garden care season has grown by 1.2 per cent in value and 1.6 per cent in volume, GfK found. It did not start strongly with March 2015 down -10.6 per cent in value against the same month the previous year, but quickly picked up. In the first half of 2015, the market for garden tools and chemicals in Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, France and Belgium recorded an overall growth of 2.9 per cent, GfK added. Total revenues were EUR3.6 billion.
Investment pays off
Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said investment had paid dividends for the Essex retailer. He said the whole centre was 5-8 per cent up, with the plantaria up 11-12 per cent, making it his best year in 44 years, beating previous records in 2008.
He said the improved retail environment, strong offers, depth of stock and being proactive on plant stocking as well as selling more in the impulse category between bedding and nursery stock, had helped sales.
HTA market information manager Dave Denny said garden centres had traded "strongly" in 2015.
The mild end to the year led to various issues. Autumn bedding did not sell well because summer bedding did not die, while the bare root market was delayed by 2-3 weeks as plants did not go into dormancy as soon as usual. Wet weather late in the year also hit planting.
Christmas trees suffered from more needle drop - an estimated double the usual number failingbecause of the mild too.
The Met Office said November and December were mild, dull and wet, while September and October were generally quiet and settled with high pressure often bringing dry, sunny conditions.
The summer was both cooler and wetter than either of the two previous summers. June was dry, July and August were often cool, unsettled and with heavy rain at times. March brought a mixture of typical early spring weather.
High pressure in April brought some notably dry, sunny and warm days whereas during May an unsettled north-westerly weather type led to cool conditions with well above average rainfall. March was wintry in the north.
GCA chief executive Iain Wylie says sales may have tailed off towards the end of the year but overall, garden retailers are happy to have a steady season under their belts, with sales continuing throughout the year and no big weather or financial crises to severely hit trade.
He says for 2016, the big questions are whether Wyevale Garden centres will continue its path of buying more centres, or will look to sell up.
Wylie says Dobbies' £54m write-down of its property could have a wider impact, as could Nicholas Marshall's pursuit of Homebase alongside his plan to make the most of their gardening offers.
Wyevale are believed to have at least three independent centres under offer. After issuing a profits warning, Homebase parent company Home Retail Group will issue a trading statement, covering the 18 weeks from 30 August 2015 to 2 January 2016, on 14 January 2016.
Other significant developments highlighted by Wylie elsewhere in the industry, included Suttons Seeds, which, following a management buyout, has succeeded in turning a £2.9m loss into a £500,000 profit in the eight months to the business' new year end of 31 July.
There is also speculation that Thompson & Morgan, now back selling through QVC, may also consider an MBO, after delays to a proposed sale by private equity owner Primary Capital to a preferred bidder in December. Acquisitive Westland has not ruled itself out, though it has plenty to keep it busy after taking on Sinclair out of administration in late 2015.