Nurseries hit as garden centres look to Europe

HTA nursery improvement scheme head Will George has said members are concerned that the garden centre market is now habitually buying plants from Europe at a cheaper price because of the euro exchange rate and that is also the case in liner production, where the number of suppliers continues to narrow.

Another continental European problem concerning the 10 members is Xylella fastidiosa. Former Prenplants owner George said he fears that the first cases in the UK will see a crackdown and a 10km exclusion zone imposed that will "ruin" nurseries, but then the Government will say the disease is "endemic and we have got to put up with it". It will be a "complete lottery" who is hit but members' fears are that garden centres and landscapers importing direct without plant passports will be "putting my industry at risk".

George said trade among members was reasonable in autumn and winter 2015-16, with growers who supply "niches" and the internet trading better than those supplying the traditional garden centre sector.

Consolidation remains a worry. "That's why people going to the niche market and direct market are doing better. Consolidation is polarising the market in two directions. The big nurseries are supplying the big garden centres and it's dog-eat-dog and exceptionally nasty unless everything works well.

"Consolidation means customers are getting more of the same, which I think makes it boring. The average customer just expects plants to be pretty and doesn't even expect them to live.

"The problem facing horticulture is having to adapt to change. The market is changing so quickly with consolidation and Europe. There aren't the traditional garden centres anymore. The actual plant season is actually very short now. These changes are making growers fear the future."

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