The owner of a large Scandinavian garden centre chain, the supermarket Morrisons and retailer John Lewis are emerging as contenders to buy Garden Centre Group (GCG).
GCG is also believed to have shown four private-equity groups around the 130-centre chain, which is for sale at £300m.
They include Terra Firma and Apax, but not Bridgepoint, which made a first-round bid.
Second-round bids for the £250m turnover GCG are due before the end of November. Tesco is not involved, but it is thought that Morrisons may still be and John Lewis representatives have been seen at GCG.
Meanwhile, one private-equity firm has been in touch with garden centres including Bents, asking whether bosses would manage the GCG chain. Bents rejected the approach.
Lloyds Banking Group, which owns about 40 per cent of GCG, put the 130-store chain up for sale by appointing advisers at Rothschild and first-round bids were due in the middle of October.
Apax owns the Nordic garden centre chain Plantasjen, which it bought in December 2006. Terra Firma has bought EMI and several pub and drinks companies.
None of the retailers or private-equity groups would comment on the record about their interests in the group.
GCG won the environmental, catering and trainee of the year awards at the Garden Retail Awards last week at London's Grosvenor Hotel.
Retail analyst's view of the contenders
"Morrisons has a lot on its plate at the moment because it is in the process of bidding for Iceland. The sum of £300m is not massive, although it seems a little high, and it fits in with its non-food growth strategy.
"John Lewis will also be exploring opportunities such as this. It's their sweet spot - the middle class customer who is lucky enough to have a garden." - Jonathan Pritchard, retail analyst, Oriel