As garden centres move from being nurseries to retailers and customers demand more comfort and higher retail standards, more structures, cladding and canopies are being installed to transform older buildings into more attractive ones that look as good as new.
Canopies at the front of centres, walkways in planterias and various types of cladding on old nursery buildings are all proving to be popular and reasonably economical ways to upgrade previously tired-looking centres.
Polybuild director Graham Van der Hage says he has been recladding buildings for more than 20 Wyevale Garden Centres over the past year. "Canopies and walkways are the more lucrative part of the business," he notes. "We laminate our own hoops and we can do timber walkways and canopies very easily."
Polybuild is about to begin work on a new structure at Norton Garden Centre in Gloucestershire, sister centre to Chepstow and Iron Acton Garden Centres. The 8m by 25m walkway canopy at Norton will provide more covered space as well as more kerb appeal for the centre, making a "statement" about an ongoing revamp.
Van der Hage says: "We put up a lot of canopies so people can come out of an insulated heated building where the retailer is selling products that can't be outside, they come into a canopy for showing plants, and then into a walkway to escort them back to their car without getting wet." He adds: "People say a canopy will pay for itself in 18 months as more people will go to the garden centre if they can stay dry."
Van der Hage recommends Kingspan insulated panels of 40-200mm thickness with steel on either side and a foam filling in the middle for cladding old nursery buildings to update them for the modern age.
At Hillier Garden Centre in Braishfield, Hampshire, the customers now enter directly into the planteria under a canopy supplied by Fordingbridge.
Customers increasingly look for quality and unique retail environments that are comfortable for long periods of time, according to Fordingbridge. It recommends timber - "a material with a unique charisma" - as a building frame.
At Hillier garden centres the group adapted to changing market dynamics by extending the plant retail areas at the Bosham and Braishfield sites with timber structures. The large open spans allow further flexible retailing and have contributed to a significant rise in sales from the two sites, and the group winning the multiple garden retailer of the year prize in the recent Garden Retail & Garden Industry Awards (HW, 18 March).
Fordingbridge adds that steel can span great distances and that can be perfect for larger retail areas, such as at Notcutts' Ashton Park Garden Centre near Manchester.
The Hampshire company says walkways are an "ideal solution" to protect garden centre customers from the weather and to guide them through external planterias. Ashtead Garden Centre in Surrey and Fordingbridge worked together to design and build a series of sustainably sourced timber walkways that were finished in a light oak stain.
Fordingbridge also converts existing canopies into insulated retail areas, such as in a recent project undertaken at St Peter's Garden Centre in Worcester.
Newspan technical salesperson Tim Bray says while the majority of his work remains in cafes, projects are underway at Honnor & Jeffrey Dalverton Garden Centre on the Isle of Wight for canopies and a refurbishment has just completed at Castle Gardens in Dorset.
"You need to protect certain stock otherwise the customer doesn't want to pick it up when it is soaking wet," he points out. "Outdoor plants are protected better too." Newspan uses polycarbonate covers on steel-framed canopies because they are "tough and durable" and have a 30-year lifespan. Bray says he has lots of projects potentially in the pipeline but many owners wait until the end of the season before committing to more work.
NP Structures commercial director Nigel Carr says there is lots of ongoing work with projects for covered display areas at Monro Nurseries in Inverness, Yarnton Nurseries in Oxfordshire and Jamesfield Garden Centre in Abernethy, Perthshire. The projects are at the high end, with a curved box arch canopy going in at Monro, using a steel box section curved in the company's own machine.
Structures are covered in PVC-coated fabric. The canopies range from trellis arch to box arch and then to the low-cost traditional canopies. The widest spans are achieved with the trellis arches, then the box arches and the traditional canopies. The trellis arches are also the strongest, followed by the box arches, with the traditional canopies being the weakest, although still fit for purpose.
NP Structures - also known as Northern Polytunnels to a non-retail audience - recently built a box arch canopy at Booth's Garden Centre in Oldham, Lancashire, as well as trellis arch canopies at Newbank, Kemps and Pontarddulais.
Malcolm Scott Consultants planner Chris Primett says: "Garden centre owners are looking for a minimum of 700-1,000sq m of covered weather-protected space." He believes canopies and walkways are the best options.
At the top end of the scale is the 2007 Bents Open Skies by Thermoflor, which is 6m to the gutter and the roof opens when the weather turns hot.
National Polytunnels points out that cladding options to turn leaky glasshouses into functional retail buildings can include:
- Insulated composite panels.
- Insulated gutters.
- Double glazing.
- Single glazing.
- Automated vents.
- Automated doors.
- Manual doors.
- Roller shutter doors.
- Opening roof system Max-Air.