Garden decor is the strategic focus of Smart Garden, probably the fasting growing company in the sector. Smart's Paris Natar said overall costs had increased 20-22% because of a range of factors but he had mitigated them and had also added 300 new products to the range, making up 40% of business for 2016. GIMA said costs were up 13% and that was leading to a dearth of new product development, but Natar and other exhibitors said they were still able to innovate.
Gardman's Pete Utting, who like Natar is opening a new mega-warehouse, said sales were up alomost 10% this year. Instant decor is the product focus. He agreed with Natar that NPD was not an issue, saying that there was "no shortage because it is relatively low cost to do NPD in China". He said price rises this year would be kept to less than 5%.
Licensed product proved successful, with Kelkay was promoting its RHS range nd is set to turnover £30m this year, up 30%, while Wildlife World won its category for the Dewdrop Wildbird Window Feeder and also launched a new National Trust range. RHS licensee Burgon & Ball's Wonderweed Puller won best garden tool. There were more than 300 award entries.
Tech solutions were to the fore. SmartPlant (formerly known as PlantSnapp) launched. The business has a partnership with The Palace Gardener and is also working with Longacres. SmartPlant app plant identification technology is a new innovation that promises to transform both the industry and the experience of buying a plant, said founder George Williams. Weber's iGrill and Gardena's smart controls. I Glow's glow in the dark decking disc also won plaudits from judges.
Meanwhile, Peat prices are set to rise. Scotts' Sheila Hill set wet weather had hit harvests and substitutes were expensive and not always available. She said Brexit's impact on exchange rates meant importing peat was also more expensive - a "double whammy". Freight is also up. Bord na Mona's Steve Harper agreed that the harvest had been the worst since 2012.
Natural plant pest and disease products were prominent. Scotts' Sheila Hill said 35% were interested in naturals, while SBM's Darren Brown said nearer 10 per cent were buying them. SBM launched Solabiol naturals rangeDone traditional range. Seaweed-based products are an example of naturals being promoted in the UK, with Mr Fothergill's licensing Seasol, SBM with Maxicrop and Irish product Fastgrow coming into the UK.
Westland plans are to go into Germany, Poland and France, though the focus remains on the UK. Non-metaldehyde Eraza is a new product and "staying ahead of regulation challenges" such as cutting pack sizes of metaldehyde products to 250g is also important, said Westland's Edward Conroy.
New HTA president Adam Taylor, of Taylors Bulbs said "the unknown" of Brexit and labour supplies were the big issues he was facing. He said on xylella, the Government could "dictate" to the industry no matter what advice the industry gives Government and that the situation was "moving rapidly". But he said awareness had been raised of the plant disease, meaning the UK now had the best chance of keeping it out and controlling it, which HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin agreed with. Curtis-Machin said the Plant Health Assurance Scheme, piloted by Boningale, would help when rolled out and EU level rulings to get compensation for disease-hit companies and to extend plant passports were positives.
Thompson & Morgan's Neil Sharpe said the seed company was refocussing on the core garden centre market after being bought out by BVG.
Britian's largest internet gardening company Primrose's Ian Charles said: "Smart Garden state that one of the threats to their business is disintermediation. I agreed with them. However, the large hard-goods product suppliers to the garden centre are meeting the threat with spadefuls of panache and beautifully-presented product. Gardman, Smart, Westland, Kelkay, Woodlodge etc - all rocking it."
Among growers, New Leaf Plants is set to open its new nursery in 2018 and said being 90% self-sufficient had helped business this year, with sales up 8%.
Wyevale Nurseries, which won best plant with Senecio Angel Wings, has increased sales in retail and amenity by 6%. Wyevale's Adam Dunnett said shrubs were in short supply and he was increasing production of plants such as phormium - by 15%. Hillier's Adam Dorber added that it was "the year of the shrub". Darby Nursery Stock/Morley's Nigel Goodall said the strong spring meant garden centres had gaps and were stocking the with shrubs.
Javado and Garden Centre Fresh said staying on top of houseplant trends with cool ways to present succulents for instance had kept them ahead of exchange rates issues.
The Plantyard's Matt Graham said he had issued a statement reassuring customers about xylella and had looked at quarantining plants such as olives, but decided against. He said Defra minister Michael Gove's threats of a blanket ban on imports of xylella-linked plants was a "massive worry".
Craigmarloch said with Kingfisher out of the heather market and few Scottish growers left, they were well placed to exploit garden centre interest in homegrown plants.
Wye Plants' Chris James said recruitment was an issue for both unskilled staff from eastern Europe, and skilled staff who were not coming out of colleges in enough numbers.
Meanehile, Ian Riggs has moved to Lechuza.
10 trends and talking points from Glee
New warehouses for Smart and gardman
Cheap artificial foliage for Gardman
Garden decor from Smart
Neudorff's off the shelf nematodes
Natural products from Westland, Scotts, SBM and others.
UK-grown shrubs back to the fore
Houseplant presentation solutions from Javado, GCF.
Tech solutions from Weber, Gardena
Glee's resurgence to 530 exhibitors, and an appearance on BBC Breakfast TV featuring Horticulture Week, and a plan to move to halls to NEC Halls 6,7,8, 19-20 in 2018.