Dixon on ... cheaper plants - but who wins?

The British are used to cheap fruit and vegetables. Decades of politicians have survived by holding down the general cost of food, and recently the supermarkets have striven to follow suit. Does this mean people want cheaper plants in their garden centres as well?

Certainly those of the gardening public that are paid up members of the RHS or the National Trust have perverse attitudes to plant prices. Normal supply-demand economics do not apply here. This is feel-good hobby-spending that equates price and quality.

Who then gains from the campaign for reduced VAT on garden plants? It might not even matter if the RHS is successful or not, the winner is still horticulture at large. Simply keeping the industry and its social values in the limelight has immeasurable benefits. For far too long the Treasury has understood little about horticulture and cared even less. The RHS deserves sustained support and, doubtless, that is already coming from the HTA and HDC, and hopefully the landscaping sectors, too.

Support is also needed from across the industry and from the retail outlets. Supermarkets, multiples, garden centre chains and small retail nursery people have contributions to make. Forming a general public opinion that plants are beneficial is vital. That will happen only if the retail goods are high-quality, healthy and fairly priced. Building an image of equitable trading is essential.

The general public needs help and advice in choosing its plants. Retail staff need the knowledgeable confidence that prevents customers from buying acid-loving plants for a chalky locality. Retail managers need the competence that prevents stocking cold-susceptible bedding plants in frost-prone areas.

The price of a plant should also fairly reflect its value - not as seen recently in a West Midlands garden centre, which charged £14.99 each for hollyhocks. Hobby spending does not mean ripping customers off.

- Professor Geoffrey Dixon is the managing director of GreenGene International


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