Cold weather brings garden industry to virtual standstill

The garden industry ground to a halt last week following the coldest start to the winter on record, with the industry lamenting plant damage and the loss of sales and working days.

While wholesalers were selling record amounts of rock salt, garden centres and nurseries were forced to close.

Moulton College senior horticulture lecturer Dr Russell Sharp warned: "From a plant physiological point of view, this recent cold snap could be worse for plants than the much colder frosts in January.

"In January's big freeze, a number of nurseries growing evergreen shrubs suffered from frost damaged foliage and certain susceptible species were deemed unsaleable. However, this recent November/December frost snap has given plants less time to acclimatise to winter conditions. This is essential for frost tolerance, even in fully-hardy tree species."

Buckingham Nurseries & Garden Centre's Chris Day said lifting stock was proving difficult. "The cold weather is certainly affecting our bare-root sales on the garden centre. This is weather we can ill-afford so early in the season," he added.

Lothian-based New Hopetoun Gardens owner Dougal Philip said: "We have had two-and-a-half feet of snow and have even had a digger from a local farm to clear it.

"We were shut completely for two days, and even when we were open we were taking £500 midweek, rather than the £5,000 we should be at this time of year. I have a whole load of Christmas trees here waiting to be sold, but the worry is people will forget about us now and stick to the high street."

Glendoick Garden Centre director Ken Cox said: "It's an absolute disaster at this time of year. Our Christmas trees cannot get here because they are snowed in too. I don't mind this happening in January and February, but in December it is a serious disaster. All in all, £20,000-£30,000 has gone."

Garden Centre Association chief executive Gillie Westwood said: "This is awful because it should be the busiest week of the season for garden centres, after not a particularly brilliant year."

But it was not all bad news. John Deere sold out of the snowplough blades that fix to its range of lawn tractors. And Dobbies garden centres have sold more than 3,000 sledges, 2,500 snow shovels and 2,600 ice breakers. Sales of bird care products were up 68.5 per cent on last year.

Rock salt and grit bin sales were also at record levels. York-based wholesaler Green-tech's rock salt sales were up by 195 per cent on the same time last year, with 152 pallets leaving the warehouse on 1 December.

East Yorkshire-based wholesaler Kelkay managing director Antony Harker said: "We're selling 40,000 bags of rock salt a day to garden centres. We have thousands of tonnes of rock salt, much more than we sold last year. We took a big risk pre-buying but we're in a lovely position now."

Cheshire-based wholesaler Bourne Amenity salesman Drew Wetherell said: "Salt is selling fast when we can get it. It's not so much a shortage, more a delay in getting it. Councils are only ordering now that the weather is bad."

- For more, see p16.

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