Speaking at the Garden Centre Association annual conference, Walkden said garden centres do not connect with beginners enough, citing her brother as an example of a gardener who failed to spend any of his £1,000 garden budget while visiting five garden centres because he found them intimidating.
She told delegates: "You have magnificent centres but beginner gardeners don't come. In my opinion, it's because of intimidation.
"And when I speak to people about garden centres, they don't see you as experts. What a shame, because quite a few beginner gardeners would come to you if you could connect better."
She said garden centres should engage more with the local community to get to those beginner gardeners, work harder to promote plants that perform well in the area and explain the importance of Award of Garden Merit plants.
"It's your job to break dormancy in the person who's frightened or intimidated and you can do that by having a member of staff who is there, but they need the language that the beginner gardener speaks," she added.
"If you rely on that older demographic they are going to drop off, and I plea for you to engage and make it easier for beginners."
- Assign a member of staff to advise beginner gardeners.
- Engage more with the local community - get involved with gardening in schools.
- Merchandise plants better - those that perform well in the area, locally-grown plants and Award of Garden Merit plants.
- Train staff to advise and sell as well as serve.
- Engage more with customers.