Garden centres must sell new plant benefits says Lowaters boss

Lowaters Nursery director Charles Carr raises plant education issue for garden centre customers.

Consumers need to be educated about the benefits of new plants because most are unaware of what they are, a nurseryman has claimed.

Lowaters Nursery director Charles Carr told an International Plant Propagators Society conference that most garden centre customers do not generally know that new plants exist.

"Most consumers don't know there are new plants and are amazed that plant breeders rights exist, so perhaps there's an education point to be made," he said.

"People buy on impulse. They buy what's pretty then go home and find out about the plant. We need to put the information right through the supply chain. Few people walk into a garden centre and know what they want. In supermarkets, people aren't using shopping lists but looking for offers. Garden centre customers are learning from that buying behaviour."

Passing on information is the key to the issue, he said: "Everyone has the internet in their pockets. Not every garden centre has staff who know everything about plants. Now they can scan QR codes to get information.

"If someone takes a plant home and it succeeds, they will tell their friends and we are more likely to benefit from it. The more people we can tell about the benefits of a plant, the better."

Carr noted that a problem with new plants is that they often go to liner producers and are produced in large volumes. "New plants are sold to a range of nurseries and we are all chasing the same customers so they can become price-sensitive crops," he said. "What should be premium-price plants are expensive liners and the price is being beaten down."

Carr said growers and retailers have to be able to have confidence in the quality of new plants. "New plants need to have long-term success. You put a lot of effort and expertise into introducing them. If a plant doesn't perform well, a lot of people won't blame the plant, they'll blame themselves."

He added: "A lot of people in garden centres are not knowledgeable. We need customers to keep coming back and so we need to know that plants will work.

"Introducing new plants keeps us interested and gives the sales representatives something to talk about. There can also be production benefits. If you have something that flowers for longer, you have a longer selling period, which is useful in a year like this one where there was only a two-week selling period. Also, new plants can be more compact and have faster production."

Conference - Expert talks and nursery visits

The three-day International Plant Propagators Society conference took place at East Malling Research and presented a range of talks by industry experts and nursery visits.

The topics covered included marketing, new approaches to dealing with pests and diseases and peat-free production.

Delegates also went on tours of Palmstead Nurseries, Brogdale, East Malling Research and Wyevale East Nurseries.

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