Seabrook's notebook

Peter Seabrook considers current and potential developments that could boost sales and add interest.

Plant quality warmed the cockles of my heart on a recent visit to Van Hage's newly opened centre in Peterborough on a bleak, cold, rainy, windswept Sunday. I'll bet that they can't wait for the mass of newly planted trees and shrubs to grow up and provide shelter.

Customers from the well-filled car park were venturing out into the covered plant area where lovely young perpetual-flowering Dianthus (Bransford) were full of bud and open flower.

Wallflower 'Treasure' (Floranova/Farplants) showing colour looked great and I can see this novelty proving to be a good autumn-flowering line as well as a March/April seller.

While most activity was in the many non-gardening areas onion sets, seeds and seed potatoes were being well shopped. The common question these days is: "Will the grow-your-own interest fade?"

I don't see how it can do with so much vegetable growing taking place at primary schools. If the youngsters are doing it some of their enthusiasm must take root with their parents. Morrison's Let's Grow for Schools campaign is putting millions of pounds worth of gardening goods into schools.

The Royal Horticultural Society is this year putting funds raised by the Chelsea Gala into its schools programme to further finance school gardening.

Add to that lot the Potato Council's delivery, yet again, of pots and potatoes to 14,500 schools and the momentum has to continue.

I think that too few centres have followed Alton Garden Centre's lead and introduced model allotments onto their sites. I have heard that Ball Colegrave now has eight allotments tended by staff on their West Adderbury Trial Grounds - and there must be other horticultural companies that could do the same thing.

It is of note that fresh-food prices in the shops went down marginally in January/February while DIY and gardening prices went up by 7.5 per cent.

There were plenty of people in buying mood at Europlant's Open Day where, I was told, prices are consolidating after big increases this time last year.

Incidentally, a public thank you to all those people who raised over £1,200 for Greenfingers on the first Europlant's day - this success was attributable in no small part to David Domoney's auctioneering skills.

The third Greenfingers/Garden Media Guild Press Day in January was also a great success, with more than 200 media people attending and representing most national newspapers, broadcasters and gardening magazines.

Squires Garden Centres was one of the few outlets that was alert to the opportunities here for retailers to raise their profiles.

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