Glee pundits upbeat about sector's future

The garden business is recession-proof and garden centres have a bright future as community hubs and grow-your-own suppliers, feedback from this week's Glee trade show suggests.

Eden Project founder Tim Smit, accepting the Roy Hay Award for service to the garden industry, told delegates: "Garden centres are going to become social centres for parents and children. You are representing the most important business in this country."

Smit added that garden centres could lead a food-growing "revolution". He said: "If I were going to invest in anything, I'd invest in garden centres. In the next 10 years, the most important people in industry are in this room now. The biggest issue ... is food security, not recession."

He also announced the 'Big Lunch', an event on 19 July 2009 when neighbourhoods will be encouraged to hold street parties offering food grown with the help of garden centres.

Scotsdales director Caroline Owen said the garden centre achieved record sales in September. She added: "This proves gardening sales are weather-related, rather than recession-related."

HTA director David Gwyther said: "Gardening is different to other industries. During the 1990s recession, people took refuge in their gardens and sales rose 10 per cent annually. Oil prices are coming down, inflation is coming down and interest rates will fall before spring 2009, while food prices are rising. It's all good news for gardening."

Glee retail award winner Paul Cooling said Smit was "inspirational", adding: "The thing he has taught me is to not have any negative people in your business."

Glee director Dan Thurlow suggested the trend to holiday at home was boosting sales for retailers.Meanwhile at Glee:

- KinderGarten's vertical gardening product, VertiGarden, won the overall award for the most innovative product.

- Glee director Dan Thurlow admitted that exhibitor numbers were down. Up to 50 Chinese businesses pulled out late, as did Apta. But Thurlow said many exhibitors were taking record orders - of up to £500,000 a day. Glee's PetIndex will move to Hall 1 at the Birmingham NEC in 2009, with other sections contracting into halls 2-5.

- Cumbria-based peat company Humax is on the verge of being sold to Scotts, HW understands.

- Scotts has pledged £6m for advertising in 2009, while Westland has earmarked £4m. Scotts disputed Westland's claim that it spent £6m on advertising in 2007, saying Thomson Media research showed that the figure was actually £2m. Both companies joined the HTA's Growing Media Initiative. Westland is a full member after claiming to be 55 per cent peat-free. Scotts hopes to reach that level in 2009.

- HW writer Peter Seabrook said he was in talks with the RHS to hold a Chelsea Flower Show "Hats Thursday", to rival Ascot's social occasion. Models would parade plants on their designer headgear.

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Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Antony Worrall Thompson, Phil Tufnell and David Domoney spread some celebrity glitter at Glee.

Llewelyn Bowen, designer of Garden of Earthly Delights furniture for Sun Time, said after years of bland decor being promoted to make homes more saleable, the housing market's downturn was a chance to add colour. Worrall Thompson, backing Slemcka's Outdoor Living range, said garden centre catering had such potential that he would like to consult for garden retailers with cafes.

Domoney, designer of the Bradstone paving range, said: "Shoppers are looking for more multi-buys such as bulbs. They encourage value in volume and keep integrity in the margin."

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