How will the economic downturn affect the garden industry?

We polled garden industry leaders on what the future holds in the uncertain economic climate.

- "Next year will be a testing time. Everyone is going to be affected so this downturn can't fail to affect the garden centre industry.

"We say garden centres are recession-resistant rather than recession-proof and this is quite unprecedented compared to previous downturns. We have recession here, global meltdown - everything is going skywards. Investment and credit might be difficult to get for redeveloping garden centres.

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel but it's not switched on - and they can't find the switch at the moment." - Gillie Westwood, chief executive, Garden Centre Association

- "We remain positive in our outlook for the garden sector. Our industry has always been resilient in times of economic challenge, as people retreat into the solace of their gardens and continue with modest expenditure on their annual maintenance.

"As property prices come under pressure, people are more likely to want to invest in their gardens than when prices were rising. We also see plant sales continuing to hold their own and (edibles) are doing particularly well.

"Inflation remains high ... This is an excellent opportunity to ensure that prices properly reflect the real value of our industry's products." - David Gwyther, director general, HTA

- "September 2007 was nine per cent up for us on 2006. This September was flat but we did have two weeks of awful weather, while last year we had 24 days of unbroken sunshine. October is flat so far.

"But the news in the past 10 days makes consumers very cautious. I don't think they haven't got money but they don't know whether to spend it or not. We need some good news from the media because customers have no confidence. Garden centres (tend to) do quite well in recessionary times, but it is a confidence thing." - Caroline Owen, managing director, Scotsdales, and HTA retail committee chairman

- "Homebase is our biggest customer and it's taken every plant we've grown for it. It has got to 0.5 per cent of its sales budget for plants, holding up very well against other areas.

"I wonder whether, as Homebase customers are not the general garden centre customer but rather the impulse DIY customer, if they're not moving house we'll do well.

"Our industry tends to do OK in times of recession. This season will be OK for us. But I was in Italy with bigger contractors last month and while they're happy about 2008 they are not seeing work on the books for 2009. So there's that uncertainty." - Andrew Richardson, managing director, Johnsons of Whixley, and HTA president.

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