Industry Preview - What lies ahead for horticulture in 2016?

Matthew Appleby, Elizabeth Henry, Gavin McEwan and Sally Drury examine the key challenges and opportunities awaiting horticulture in 2016.

Consolidation year: a general optimism will pervade 2016 with more mergers and acquisitions to follow - image: HW
Consolidation year: a general optimism will pervade 2016 with more mergers and acquisitions to follow - image: HW


In ornamentals production, as well as garden retail, the National Living Wage (NLW) and consolidation are two of the biggest challenges for growers. Lovania general manager Charmay Prout said wage cost rises and growers taking over others are the big issues in the sector for 2016. Lovania has acquisitions planned in 2016.

Prout said: "There is a lot of consolidation in the market place which will lead to the market becoming more competitive, which is a good thing and means everyone ups their game. There's going to be more of it next year, certainly from our point of view."

On the National Living Wage, which comes in on 1 April 2016, Prout said: "It is going to affect us. But what is comforting about it is it's the same for everybody - we're all going to be affected by this. Customers don't want to pay any more for products so we have got to become more efficient. It's a challenge."

Prout says forward planning would help in this area adding that buyers are making decisions later: "A lot of buyers buy very late and that puts you on the back foot when negotiating prices."

Bowden Hostas owner Tim Penrose, who bought Rickards Ferns and two bamboo businesses in the last couple of years, says 2016 will be a "consolidation year".

He still believes industry consolidation is 'sensible'. Plants for Europe owner Graham Spencer says there is "a general optimism" although he believes there are still some bad debts to work through the system.

"I think there is more merger/acquisition activity to take place, although I'm not sure who it would be. The fate of Syngenta is unresolved - I don't see anyone in horticulture buying it - nobody has the will or the money. We will see liner production shrinking further still. More growers are shifting to plugs. Seiont will probably do well because they are innovative with new products and changing to reflect market changes. Skylark will fill a gap where other liner producers have faded away.

"I think we will see some nurseries go for housing - that's going to be an irresistible pressure on some companies. Bricks and mortar are more profitable than plants in pots. I don't think we have seen the full outcome of the Dummen expansion. They have yet to consolidate their perennial range after buying Florexpo.

"Supply chain is going to be a big issue in 2016 and beyond. Partly because there are fewer truly independent supply chain options left due to mergers (Ball/Aris, Dummen/Florexpo, Volmary/Delamore) and that process is ongoing. But the other worry for supply chain is plant health. The Xylella problem is going to really hit hard over the next year or two and some supply chain options will cease to be available for that reason.

"A final issue for us is the exchange rate - the impact on British growers with cheap (Dutch) imports and also the impact on British breeders with reduced income from euro-denominated royalties. There is also the Euro referendum - to leave would place an enormous cost burden on breeders and might be fatal to some."

Seiont manager Neil Alcock says orders are up and he sees opportunities for upping plugs and liners production for the first time since 2011.

Earley Ornamentals managing director Simon Earley said in June that bedding growers were full of optimism but an "anti-climatic" autumn dampened that. However, he said a good spring outweighs a poor autumn.

Some sources suggest a third of autumn bedding was thrown away industry-wide. Newey Group managing director Alex Newey said he is expecting 10-13 per cent growth, but that NMW is "the single biggest issue we have to face as an industry", which can be combated by getting product to market more cost effectively.

Looking ahead to 2016. Credit: Morguefile


The year ahead is likely to bring some institutional upheaval in the arboriculture sector, as the disbanding last year of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) UK & Ireland chapter has left the UK industry without any formal links to the world's largest arboriculture body.

Arboricultural Association (AA) chief executive Karen Martin said: "Given the prominence of arboriculture within the UK the lack of any AA representation on the global platform the ISA provides seems remiss. Discussion with the ISA and the underpinning investigative work are still in progress and we plan to put a proposal to the AA Board of Trustees in early 2016. The detail is however key and no decision has as yet been made."

She emphasised that the AA is not considering becoming an ISA Chapter but looking at the benefits of being an Associate Organisation, giving it access to global research and expertise, international collaboration including with mainland European ISA chapters, as well as the ISA Certified Arborist and associated training schemes.

"As an Associate Organisation the AA could, should the Board determine, offer ISA Certification to UK&I arboriculturists," she said, adding: "In an increasingly connected world, the opportunity to be part of a global voice on arboriculture is critical and adds weight to the representations we can make in the UK."

An AA representative said it would also focus on the promotion of i-Tree Eco UK, engagement with the public, related sectors and our different groups of membership and biosecurity in the year ahead.

A London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) representative said: "We welcome the fact that 2015 has seen green infrastructure rise up the political agenda, and in 2016 we are keen to ensure that trees are recognised as the most important component, mitigating pollution and the urban heat island effect and playing a huge part in the health and well-being of city dwellers whilst offering a superb cost/benefit ratio."

She added: "There is uncertainty with regard to the ongoing management and spread of oak processionary moth. An end to the centrally funded and managed control programme could risk undoing much of the good work that has been done so far."

The LTOA also intends to monitor the impact of more recent arrivals such as ash dieback and the threat of diseases such as canker stain of plane. "An effective response will require a combination of engaging with those who already deal with these problems, adequate funding, and ensuring that as an industry we learn from the experiences of the past," she said.

"Key to a healthy population of trees is a healthy population of local authority tree officers. With additional government cuts in the pipeline it is more important than ever that these professionals are recognised for their knowledge, expertise and commitment."

Green shoots: professionalism in the turf industry. Credit: Morguefile


Could the turf industry be set for success this year? It could be said that a solid foundation was set out last year. The Institute of Groundsmanship's Saltex exhibition was a great success and showed the industry in a new light of professionalism. The institute is raising the status of the groundsman and with a strong Young Board of Directors perhaps we will see youngsters being attracted to the industry.

At the show we witnessed a new era of machinery development. Line-marking is a case in point, moving from laser-guided equipment to GPS and most recently to robotics. Dramatic improvements in recent years now mean we can look forward to quiet, emissions-free commercial mowing equipment. We already have mowers that cut randomly across areas enclosed by underground wires. Perhaps in future we will see robotic mowing of golf courses and other large grassed areas, using GPS to determine and automatically alter height of cut according to pre-determined requirements?

The current situation on the ground paints a mixed picture when it comes to the standard of facilities. At the top end, pitches are getting better and practices greener in environmental terms. However, further financial cuts can be expected to impact on public facilities. Or can they? Perhaps it depends on what part of the country those facilities are located. Campey Turf Care managing director Richard Campey notes: "One or two local authorities, mine in particular, have been made aware of their lack of investment in park pitches and are trying to do something about it. Others seem to want to dispose of park pitches to clubs or communities."

He has noticed that some consultants who write grounds maintenance specifications for councils are now including modern methods and modern machinery instead of sticking with the ways common 30 or 40 years ago. Campey hopes to move things forward this year with the renovation of 12 venues using Koro equipment and an education seminar aimed specifically at local authorities and small clubs.

"What we have done in Europe (using Koro equipment) has worked and there is no reason why it shouldn't work here," Campey adds.

And major challenges lie ahead concerning pesticides. Britrisk Safety technical director Jon Allbutt is adamant: "We adopted the new EU Directive in 2012 and in my view have not made significant progress in setting up integrated pest management (IPM) regimes that will show 'real' reductions in the use of pesticides over time," he says. "There are no real initiatives to guide users of pesticides towards IPM programmes and users are floundering under a lot of generic stuff with no real guidance. We have no new professional products for leatherjackets and chafers - where is the guidance for an IPM approach?"

Allbutt warns: "If we don't get our act together in 2016 we run the risk of losing more products."

Facility standards need to be maintained and, in many instances, need improvement or the industry can expect to see synthetic turf continue to replace natural turf. Campey again: "Standards have got to improve. Too many natural grass pitches have had games cancelled - often due to no or incorrect maintenance being carried out." But maybe, with a new-found sense of status and a high quality of professionalism, the industry can attract young achievers to save and even enhance our turf facilities.

Green spaces: further investment is required. Credit: Orma

Grounds care

Austerity continues to push down local authority contract prices, but contractors say the private sector maintenance market is looking strong, with opportunities on offer.

The "race to the bottom" will continue in the public sector as some companies slash prices to gain market share, according to ISS Facilities Services Landscaping director Phil Jones, who chairs the National Contractors Forum (NCF).

"Local authorities will take the lower prices, given they are duty bound to find savings to balance their books. This will continue to lead to a drop in standards, with some contractors being unable to sustain service delivery at the lower prices."

However budget cuts could also drive innovation, according to Glendale MD Andy Corcoran.

"There will be a heavier focus on routine maintenance and income generation that will see parks working towards improving their public appeal, as well as taking steps to keep up with the digital age by engaging with communities by embracing technology."

The National Living Wage will put pressure on contractors, with many aiming to extract the money from clients. But there is also a massive shortfall in skilled staff at all levels, which Quadron's Clive Ivil says is linked to the sector's low pay rates and financial pressures. He fully supports better pay for grounds maintenance staff in the public sector.

"Pay rates have been too low for far too long, and the industry and its employees have suffered significantly as a result. However, funding the increases required by the National Living Wage legislation (this year), and in the coming years, within the financial constraints of the current local authority marketplace will prove to be very challenging."

Increased wages could mean fewer staff and a resulting drop in standards for some contractors, according to Jones, who predicts a number of service providers will struggle and possibly go out of business. He also expects further mergers and market consolidation as companies look to increase their market share, resulting in fewer big players in the sector.

However, despite the public sector pressures, most are positive about their own prospects for 2016. Jones said ISS continues to win large public and private landscape maintenance contracts. "I expect greater than normal growth in landscape construction works and in interior plants and floristry, which have increased over 2015," he added. "The conditions are favourable and the signs very positive that there is money to fund such projects across the UK." Companies such as Nurture Landscapes, which work primarily on commercial maintenance jobs, are also positive about the year ahead.

Ivil says although the negativity around public sector cuts was the worst aspect of 2015, there are still more positives than negatives for those working in the sector. Among them are the goodwill and help of Friends groups and volunteers, and an increased focus on biodiversity. He is also heartened by an increased willingness from local authorities to take a more commercial approach to contracts.

"For example, allowing contractors to operate a commercial grounds maintenance business alongside the council grounds maintenance contract, utilising the authority's depots and resources to service the needs of the local business community, with the resulting profits being shared with the authority."

The public is also increasingly aware of the impacts of austerity and it will be their voices the politicians listen to. Corcoran said: "This coming year, more than ever, we must strenuously present the case for investment in parks and green spaces. Glendale believes that the whole sector will do more to champion this cause and the National Contractors' Forum will play a bigger role in 2016 in lobbying for adequate funding."

Contractors will need to keep abreast of changes to pesticide legislation, and proactively show they are following best practice, such as by adopting integrated pest control strategies. Amenity Forum chair John Moverley says they must ensure they are following new legal requirements to ensure all sprayer operatives are fully trained, as well as adhering to the National Sprayer Test Scheme - a legal requirement from November 2016. Moverley also hopes to see the Amenity Assured standard becoming more widely used in specifying contracts, rather than a focus on economics.

Opportunities for British fruit growers should increase given increasing concern over health and diet. Credit: HW


Among highlights in the fresh produce calendar this year will be two major international fruit-themed events take place in southern England in quick succession. In late May, Brighton plays host to the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, while in mid-June the fifth International Blackcurrant Conference takes place in Ashford, Kent.

National Fruit Show chairman Sarah Calcutt is in charge of organising the latter event. "It will bring together international plant breeding experts, researchers and nutritionists. Blackcurrants really are a super-food and we have findings about their anti-oxidant effects, their possible role in preventing Alzheimer's or Parkinson's - it will bring all these researchers together." But she sees the impending National Living Wage, due to come into effect in April, as yet another pressure on an industry already struggling with persistently low margins.

"It will make it enormously difficult for some growers to keep going," she says. "People want to pay less for food and there is cheaper produce on the market - we are fighting to keep buyers buying British. Already a lot of land agents say farms are coming up for sale because they can't stay in business given trading conditions and pressure from banks. Inputs other than fuel have also gone up, meaning crops cost a lot to grow, and if the returns aren't there at the end of the season you have a problem." However among those able to invest, a recent unblocking of capital grant money will mean a revival of investment in storage and packing. "With so many new orchards, there has to be more storage," she says, adding that such companies "are in a position to do something" with newly vacant farms. "Top fruit is following soft fruit in rationalisation."

British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward said: "We are dependent on a buoyant economy and the forecast for 2016 is not so good - at a macro-economic level we are not on an upward trajectory. In fact, despite what feels like several years of improved trading, we have just about got back to where we were before the credit crunch in 2007. A fragile recovery appears to be the only thing preventing an interest rise."

And with the referendum on Britain's EU membership still a possibility this year, "that will potentially have a knock-on effect on the economy, from farms to multiples, and cause added uncertainty that we could do without. Then there is the impact on labour supply if seasonal workers are no longer able to come."

Europe "continues to be a problem in other ways", he adds. "We have a strengthening pound which makes exports difficult as well as ensuring a ready supply of produce from the Continent at a very competitive price.

"And while energy costs are down, the living wage will push up wage bills by 6-7 per cent on average. Given that labour is 30-50 per cent of growers' costs, that will be a big pill to swallow."

On a more positive note, "there should be opportunities for British horticulture given our increasing concern over diet and health, and the fruit and vegetables have to play in that", he says. "We have a growing population and short distances to market, but there are a good many clouds on the horizon too."

Green spaces: further investment is requiredCapability Brown’s lake at Trentham, enhanced by new landscaping and wildflower planting. Credit:Nigel Dunnett

Professional gardening

Coping with floods of visitors and maintaining horticultural standards with limited resources will be the big challenges for professional gardeners in 2016. Consultant Alan Sargent expects gardens to continue attracting record crowds. Many gardens now offer more than a simple visit, Sargent adds. "I am a strong supporter and enthusiast for promoting a wide range of opportunities to head gardeners and property owners. There are so many ways in which to make improvements to cash flow."

Attracting repeat visitors will continue to be a focus. At Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire around half of visitors on any given day are annual ticket holders, head gardener Michael Walker says. Working out what makes them return is key to encouraging more people to buy season tickets.

The Capability Brown festival, celebrating 300 years since Lancelot "Capability" Brown's birth, holds many opportunities for gardens, particularly at the National Trust, which owns more than 20 Brownian landscapes. The festival coincides with Visit England's Year of the English Garden. Both offer strong marketing opportunities. The Brownian landscapes and vistas at Trentham Estate have been revealed and reinterpreted for a modern audience, with Nigel Dunnett the latest designer to stamp his mark on the landscape. Walker hopes that rather than seeing the festival as a one-off event, it will be used to reinvigorate public interest in historic gardens for many years to come.

Extending the season continues to be a successful strategy for upping visitor numbers and drawing repeat customers. At Trewidden Gardens in Cornwall, head gardener Richard Morton is adding summer and autumn colour with stalwarts such as Hydrangea macrophylla, and hacking back overgrown areas to incorporate pockets of interest such as woodland glades.

Big crowds and commercial targets will pose added challenges. Mike Calnan at the National Trust says more visitors and year-round opening times must be balanced against the responsibility to conserve historic properties. And Trentham's Walker says with staffing and funding static, head gardeners must be strategic.

"Many of us have demanding gardens to present to ever increasing standards, visitor expectations and commercial targets - but with the same resources we have long had," Walker says.

Working efficiently and setting priorities is essential, "otherwise in a large landscape like Trentham you could spend most of your resource polishing a small area rather than managing and presenting all the garden all the time."

Declining plantsmanship as head gardeners retire will continue to be an issue, Walker added.

Fewer skills among young people are an ongoing frustration for London's Inner Temple head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf, who has struggled to find a qualified applicant to fill the gardens' traineeship. In response the team is increasing its volunteer programme.

If the winter stays mild a pest and disease bonanza could be on the cards. Calnan highlights box blight, Xylella fastidiosa and Phytopthera ramorum as issues at the National Trust, while Cory Furness, head gardener at Penshurst Place in Kent, expects everything from greenfly to voles to thrive if the "ridiculous" weather continues.

Gardens round the country also report unseasonal blooming. Furness says: "We've had a pear in blossom, the daffodils are more advanced than they should be - it's all a little out of sync. It's unusual and slightly worrying, in the sense of 'Is this going to become a regular trend?'"

On the legislation side, the Nagoya Protocol and EU Invasive Alien Species Directive will both affect gardens this year, with monitoring and recording plant collections a key issue, according to PlantNetwork coordinator Pamela Smith. While few plants of horticultural value are prohibited under the invasives legislation, gardeners must be vigilant as this is constantly under review, Smith said.

Nagoya also means gardeners must hold accurate records and comply with legal and moral obligations around collection and use of plant material. PlantNetwork, the RHS, HTA, Kew Gardens, National Trust and others are currently assessing the implications for the sector.

Royal Parks’ independence plans a bright spot. Credit: ©Greywolf/Royal Parks


Storm clouds continue to gather over much of the parks sector. Experts fear 2016 could be the tipping point, with looming sell-offs, privatisation and falling quality having long-term implications.

Yet, promisingly, the public and the national media are more aware than ever of the value of green space and its impact on everything from health to education, as well as the part it plays in making cities more resilient to climate change. Lobbying politicians and rallying the public to fight for their green spaces must be urgent priorities if the crisis is to be averted, experts say.

November's Comprehensive Spending Review will make itself felt over the next year, as councils clarify how they plan to deal with budget deficits - which come on top of the £59.4m that has already been lost from parks and open spaces budgets. Liverpool, one of the worst hit, is set to have no parks funding within two years.

Parks consultant Peter Neal said austerity is polarising the parks sector, with investment pouring into new public realm while existing green spaces struggle. "Two exhibitions - The Landscape Institute's Rethinking the Urban Landscape and the NLA's Public London - showcased bold and ambitious investment in new landscape and public realm. In stark contrast, two reports highlighted the real difficulty communities now face in looking after their existing open spaces. The Fabian Society's 'Places To Be' made it clear councils are increasingly being left without the means to maintain their parks and green spaces."

The Royal Parks' move to become an independent charity as part of the spending review is a bright spot for green space, says consultant Andrew Gill. But he agrees the overall parks services outlook is dire for the next few years, especially outside London.

"Council leaders say that Osborne's £4bn in cuts represents the total value of their non-statutory services, so it may not be even be a choice of whether to fund leisure centres or parks. Allotments and libraries are somewhat protected as statutory services so councils must provide them by law, but despite the many benefits of open spaces people do not tend to notice their deterioration until it is too late."

Everyone hopes for the best but must be ready for the worst, according to The Parks Alliance chairman Mark Camley. Closures, sell-offs and a drop in green space quality are all on the cards, although tight budgets have provided a silver lining by driving better collaboration and innovation between public and private sector.

All agree political will is key to bringing parks back from the brink. Climate change, health and housing will be this year's big political issues - and green space has a part to play in all of them, if only parks advocates can make their voices heard, according to Neal.

Camley agrees, saying there is no better time to speak up as local and mayoral elections approach.

He said: "For every £1 invested in parks, there is around £12 return in social, environmental and economic benefits. So while the case for parks is clear, we all need to be advocates for investment in them."

The Parks Alliance continues to call for a parks enquiry from the Department of Communities and Local Government, and the campaign to make London a National Park City will come to a head when a new mayor is elected next year.

An updated State of Parks report from HLF in the second half of 2016 will give weight to the sector's concerns, while Nesta's Rethinking Parks report due out shortly will crystallise ideas around new business models for parks.

But Gill believes taxation remains the only sustainable model for funding parks maintenance. "I don't buy the arguments that innovative alternative sources are out there or that volunteers can maintain parks infrastructure."

Gill predicts some authorities will choose to redirect some of their business rates income to maintain or even improve green spaces, but many more will sell off "surplus" space and buildings.

"I fear that, like global warming, this is invidious; we will wake up in a few years to find that the only decent urban green space is fenced off or private access."

Landscaping: more design services now offered. Credit: ©Alamy


Landscape professionals are generally upbeat about the coming year, following a boom in South East construction and modest increases across the rest of the UK. The domestic market has also picked up, as people feel stable in their employment and are getting extensions, patios and driveways done.

A long, rainy winter is the only thing that could do serious damage, according to Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) chairman Mark Gregory.

"There's a stability and confidence in the marketplace. Most contractors I speak to have healthy order books going into winter. The South and certainly London is 'boom boom shake the room' - although it's not amazing everywhere."

As a result, people are pricing work sensibly and increasing their rates. But supply issues will continue to make themselves felt, with nurseries saying they are so busy they don't have time to quote for jobs.

"It's great that we're busy and buoyant and customers are spending again. But the delays in supply of bricks and stone affect us, and obviously there is a continued problem with a shortage of labour. The problem is all of us can only do so much work and therefore we have to let customers down."

Gregory's business, Landform Consultants, is very busy with "a lovely mixed portfolio" and he is extremely confident about 2016 - barring a bad downturn in weather.

But with so much work around, landscapers have the luxury of being selective about the work they take on.

Gregory said it is "critical" that people select winter contracts wisely, avoiding heavy soil work, clay and ground contouring.

"In the recession we had to look at those; now we can say you know what, it's better for us in our work profile to do something else."

The skills issue continues to dominate industry discussions, but 2016 will also be a year for the industry to take more responsibility for the problem, and provide solutions.

The APL has launched several initiatives to quickly upskill landscapers and apprentices, while BALI will be working with colleges and schools to ensure students arrive on the job with the qualifications and skills the industry needs.

The Outdoor Room's David Dodd noted the trend of more landscape construction companies offering design services, and taking on designers, particularly in the south. But they must ensure the design aspect is done professionally and charged at a rate that reflects its value, rather than offering free design services which undervalue the profession.

In a booming market, with increasing rates and a skills shortage biting, companies should not complain about paying their staff the National Living Wage, said Dodd, who will spearhead BALI's training initiatives next year.

"I think it is an absolute shame on them if they're panicking about paying a decent wage - no wonder that it coincides with young people not seeing landscaping as a viable option," he said.

"If you can't pay staff a decent salary, you're either greedy or you're undercharging for what you do."

Dodd predicts the market will stay strong for two to three years, and said the skills shortage is the only thing stopping many landscapers expanding their businesses - his own business could take on six to 10 more staff tomorrow, he says.

"The amount of work out there is phenomenal. It's a double-edged sword because we moan when there's not enough work and we moan when there's too much."

Broadway Malyan landscape architect Danny Crump is also optimistic about landscape in 2015, thanks to a broadly positive economic outlook and increasing public and client demand for quality open space.

Landscape architecture has moved from a "nice-to-have" to being seen as an integral part of development, which is good news for the industry, Crump said.

Political devolution and more regional access to funds mean the trend of local authorities investing in public realm is likely to continue, he said.

He added: "To ensure we make the most of these bright market conditions, the industry needs to maintain momentum - keeping the public and private sector hungry to change their spaces into places and continuing to create and imagine the future of our open urban landscapes."

But he wants to see the public kept in the loop on public realm projects, saying: "The clue is in the title 'public realm' - it's about, and for, the people."

Weather or not: good weather has always played a big part in the increase of footfall at UK garden centres. Credit: HW

Garden retail

The introduction of the National Living Wage has emerged as the biggest issue facing garden retailers in 2016.

Alton Garden Centres director Andy Bunker says the wage, to be introduced in April 2016 at £7.20/hour, replacing the £6.50 minimum wage, is a concern: "We have 80-90 staff but for somewhere like Longacres with 20-30 more, it will cost £500 week more. Then there's the knock-on. The NLW doesn't make staff on a premium any better off so overall the NLW is the most concerning thing for 2016.

"The biggest other factor for 2016 will be the weather. The euro is irrelevant in some ways. At the moment it is an advantage to buy from abroad so I will up my orders from the Dutch by 10-15 per cent but if the euro went back to 1.2 I'd cut that back 10-15 per cent. For lavenders I've done very well this year buying at 2.50 and selling at £6.99 but if the euro was 1.25 I'd buy at 2.80 and sell at £7.99. For poinsettia I could sell Dutch at £4.99 instead of £6.99 for British but I'd have to sell 40 per cent more to stand still.

Trends for private equity to buy into garden suppliers and retailers, increasing consolidation, and for big companies to make frequent management changes have also been noted in the sector.

Consultant Neville Stein said: "I think that in a dynamic market characterised by the speed of change quickening and having stability in the leadership team is vital. The key though is that the CEO is adept at leading change in the organisation."

Glendoick Gardens director Ken Cox says consolidation in the nursery sector, and John Woods Nursery's demise, could lead to some plants becoming unavailable to retailers: "With John Woods gone what concerns me is the range of material now available nationally. Some sectors have good range and availability: climbers and perennials for example. Others have less and less. I could not find any shrubby Cercidiphyllum for example. Conifers are not all that easy to get now. Hardly any of the big nurseries grow them. Taxus come in from Holland, with disease issues. Same with Viburnum. Perennials seem to go in fashions and increasingly just novelties with PBR on them, so this year all the Astilbe available seemed to be the 'Younique' series. Not better than any others but evidently the cheapest liners?"

He added: "The big story as ever will be glyphosate ... if we lose that we are all in a lot of trouble."

Supplier Growforth managing director Stan Green says small independents are closing: "We don't see many changes happening in the next two or three years. There has been a shake-up this year (five Scottish independent garden centres closed) and looking forward we see further refinements in the supply chain as garden retail finds where it is within the retail picture it will be making different demands on us. Some plan the 80/20 route concentrating on the cafe and strong retailing and others are looking to push a USP and range of service and we're trying to find our way with that challenge."

The Plant Yard's Matt Graham says 2016 will be a "challenging year" for independent garden centres: "There are great pressures on the smaller guys, both retailers and suppliers alike, to maintain their position within their respective market places."

He says independents "are in a constant battle with those 'bigger boy' retailers of plants. We have Wyevale, Dobbies etc within the traditional garden centre format and outside that format we have Waitrose at one end, Aldi at the other and many in between. A plant shopper has never had it easier to buy plants from bricks and mortar."


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