Seabrook on...Co-operation makes the smaller independents stronger

Last Good Friday, small independent garden centres and retail nurseries were somewhat upset to hear the statement made on BBC Gardeners’ World that garden centres would be "closed on Easter Sunday". While we are well aware that large centres and other retailers are closed then, smaller businesses can open and indeed it is a critical day in their annual sales calendar, and one on which they have the advantage over their big, price-cutting competitors.

Social media was a bit hot on this subject at the time and as a result the independents have now got together and list independent plant nurseries online. The founders of this initiative are Sarah Venn of Incredible Edibles, Sacha Hubbard of Hill House Nurseries and University of Oxford parks department area gardens supervisor Matthew Currie.

The whole non-profit exercise is operated by volunteers. Their website (www.independentplantnurseriesguide.uk) gives consumers nursery locations and contact details. They are open to receive more retailers with the only condition being that they have to be single, small independents.

When I logged on for the county of Essex, alongside the likes of well-known Beth Chatto Gardens were several nurseries I did not know existed. There are many examples in our trade of co-operation bringing strength without the loss of individual freedoms. The HTA National Garden Gift Token scheme, the Tillington Group, the Garden Centre Association, the Anglia Group, BALI, the Garden Media Guild and Farplants are examples that immediately come to mind in this respect. 

The new website could well become a saviour for plant retailers serving a local community and small specialist growers with an extensive list of less common and desirable cultivars. It will have the difficulty of getting the website known, and buying advertising is not a possibility when the whole exercise is done for free. Word of mouth will be their best method and I have to say my visit to Hill House has got me both talking and writing about them.

They operate from an old vicarage, which houses the tea shop. They have an adjacent all-encompassing nursery and garden open to the public free of charge. The garden was originally planted in the 20th century by the Late Edward Hyams, who reintroduced vineyards to England and has an extensive collection of plants including two fishtail-leaved camellias. I wish this initiative well and will log on when travelling to see what further nursery gems await discovery.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster


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