In August, garden centres looked to me to be missing out on several tricks: now that coffee shops and gift areas steadily show year-round growth, it is easy to become complacent about the autumn gardening stock.
There can be no disputing the upsurge in sales for grow-your-own fruit and vegetables, so where are the bold autumn fruit displays? "Perpetually" fruiting Strawberry 'Albion' (Meredith) sold out in three weeks at good prices last June so why are we not offering them now, when they are still fruiting heavily?
This plant will yield masses of fruit right through to the frost, so it's difficult to understand why there's no autumn promotion - or a link with coffee-shop sales of 'Albion' strawberry tartlets.
Similarly, rooted tips of raspberries 'Joan J' and 'Brice' will fruit well in 3.5-litre containers from early September to November; another fruit for restaurants and direct-link container sale.
Wyevale centres had meaty 12' (30cm) pots of aubergines, tomatoes, peppers (both sweet and hot) at £4.99 a time - offering another plant area/cafeteria link-up. Wisley Plant Centre was offering fruit of less common cultivars from its orchard at the check-out but had no link to container-grown trees.
A centre near Ipswich had patio pot dwarf peach and pear trees but these were lost among other, end-of-season lines. It did, however, have two benches of colour-coordinated seasonal ornamentals, one with silver foliage and such lavender-coloured flowers as Michaelmas daisies, lavenders and verbenas in three different heights. The other bench had dark-leaved plants with scarlet-to-crimson flowers, which among predominantly green leaves, shrubs, conifers and trees really caught the eye.
Country Gardens was an early bird with its autumn bulbs but displayed them well away from autumn chrysanthemums, large pots of seasonal herbaceous in flower and stocks of attractive autumn shrubs.
In times past garden centres made great play of autumn bulb festivals and fruit tasting events: these promotions could be given another whirl to build traffic.Decorating coffee tables with pots of fragrant mini Cyclamen (priced) and backing these up with sales tables of them at the entrance and check-out is worth the effort. There are regular customers for food and drink who could happily be persuaded to buy a plant as they leave by this means. Or offer a free cyclamen when spending more than £10 in the coffee shop.
Something really needs to be done to kick new life into autumn bedding, autumn fruits and autumn bulbs so repeat visitors can delight in the arrival of a new season.
- Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.