With the garden centre market pretty static over the past few years, and chains buying up independents, suppliers could struggle to grow sales if they do not look for alternative paths to market.
One outlet that says it is keen to find more suppliers is QVC, whose television shopping gardening shows have seen double-digit growth over the past three years and have enjoyed six consecutive years of growth.
QVC moved across London from Battersea to Chiswick in 2012 and now presenter Richard Jackson has a better outdoor set than at the old site.
"QVC gardening has grown and grown but it is still a bit under the radar," says Jackson. His "professional formula" Flower Power product range of feeds, controls, seeds and bird food turns over £5m a year and is QVC's biggest single brand.
Garden plants brand
Hayloft Plants is the biggest garden plants brand on QVC, replacing Thompson & Morgan, which left in 2014 to work with rival channel Ideal World. Hayloft has also replaced T&M as QVC plant supplier on its Italian channel, where Hayloft will appear for the first time on 26 February.
QVC gardening buyer Chris Gardner says the US-owned channel does not react to Ideal World. "I don't see anything to go after on a daily basis," he adds. "We don't change our offers because of Ideal World."
Bid TV, which previously sold gardening through Peter McDermott's YouGarden, closed in 2014, leaving QVC with less competition.
Gardening buyer Sanjay Vasta says: "The gardening department is really taking off. We had our best ever season for plants last year by quite some distance."
Vasta says plants are a "big part of the business". QVC will not say how much, but if QVC gardening is estimated at £15m-£20m a year, it is maybe nearly half of that. Unique products include fountains, loungers and the Golden Gark rake/shovel/sieve garden tool.
Ken Evans' new plant-sourcing business Plants2Garden is launching via QVC, while former T&M employee Rupert Precious's Mont Rose of Guernsey is also brand building on the channel. Established names such as Whetman Pinks - launching its "Cocktail" range on QVC in May ahead of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show - are regulars. De Jager is a large supplier of flower bulbs and young plants and is QVC's biggest plant supplier this year along with Hayloft and Plants2Garden.
Evans' former employer Unwins, in its second season at QVC, fills the T&M gap to an extent too, with Marshalls soft fruit and specimen plants, presented by Evans' replacement Richard Quint. Evans' new range includes 7.5to 10-litre plants and cut flower peonies. His Fir Tree Pelargoniums range, with stock bought from the retired RHS shows regular, launches on QVC on 21 February.
Vasta says "more instant-impact plants" is the trend, such as Unwins rhododendrons, nandina and Trachycarpus at £34.99-£39.99. These can sell 1,000 units in eightto 10-minute broadcasts. QVC is moving away from pack bedding plugs sold in 36s and 72s.
Jackson says TV demo times are important. In a garden centre, he could demonstrate the benefits of a plant or product to a single customer at a time, but on QVC he can do so to 30,000 at once for around six minutes. Leading online garden retailer Primrose has 15,000 lines, he adds. "How do you highlight any?"
Garden furniture and battery fountain sales are growing fastest - 15,500 loungers a day in 2014 compared with 7,000 in 2013. A stretch hose sold 25,000 in June 2014. It was ideal for QVC because it had a "story" and was easy to demonstrate, says Jackson.
He adds that products such as the Gark would not sell in garden centres because customers would not know what they do. On QVC, his demos mean that novel items sell well, he explains. Prices have to be cheaper than those in garden centres for identical products, but QVC rarely sells what you can buy in shops, preferring to do exclusives, Jackson own-brands or added extras, so products are not comparable.
Selling out of season
Jackson says an advantage for QVC over bricks-and-mortar retailers - if not online ones - is being able to sell out of season. He says 30,000 fuchsia plugs went on a January Sunday when garden centres were deserted.
Vasta and Gardner both visit trade shows to source products and plants and they are looking for new suppliers. Other items are first sold on US QVC.
The phone/online figures for 2013 are available at www.qvcuk.com. iPhone and Android apps accounted for 31.3 per cent of net revenue during 2013 (compared with 25.9 per cent for 2012).
In 2014 there were some 280 live hours of garden shopping broadcast on QVC, which might go up in 2015, depending on sales. Xtra, which also features gardening, is among three extra prerecorded QVC channels.
Flower Power Sales
Richard Jackson's QVC product range Flower Power launched in 2007 and was the top-selling gardening product on QVC.
In 2014 there were 15 Richard Jackson products available, with sales up 27 per cent at 400,000 packs worth £5m. The brand was the second-biggest on QVC Extra in the first six months of 2014. Sales: 100,000 Flower Power, 50,000 bags of compost, 24,000 organic slug-pellet packs.