GCA judge Andy Campbell said: "Garden centres are doing all categories exceedingly well but there are more opportunities in visual merchandising. Over the past 10 years standards have gone up consistently and a lot of the basics in retail are now well understood and delivered."
Campbell showed GCA delegates at the conference in Blackpool some pictures he has taken of bad displays and practice in garden centres. "It's easy to say it never happens at my place," he added. "The pictures show the need to self analyse and drive standards forward.
"Garden centres need to focus on how to present the plant offer. They're getting good at being retailers of all the main categories and have been exceedingly good at plant retailing in the past, but there are still opportunities for people to strengthen their offering. It all comes down to great planning and analysis of who their customers are.
"The last couple of years have seen growth in other categories and difficult trading in plants and gardening, which means scope for more that centres can do with their plants, which might be a different way of doing things from historically and significant upheaval of planterias to get customer flow and plant groupings right."
GCA inspector Ian Boardman said a new marking system for 2013 brought average scores down eight per cent, with some centres 15-20 per cent down. The new system may be "less forgiving" than the old one, he suggested.
Consultant Eve Tigwell said some centres are too slow to take out their Christmas displays, with many left in place until late January. They should be replaced by "propagation, summer bulbs and anything colourful" as soon as possible in January to gain sales and not put customers off, she added.
GCA award winners
- Best garden centre: Cowells
- Best destination centre: Barton Grange
- Best planteria (Ruxley Rose): Cowells/Van Hage, Great Amwell.