Gardening makes up one-third of Homebase's business, retail director Graham Heald has revealed, and "in season substantially more than that".
Speaking to HW at last week's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, he said putting on a show garden gave the DIY/garden retail chain's employees confidence and learning to take back to store.
Homebase sees itself as a destination store and there is a "sweet spot" to exploit around big-ticket items and the gold medal-winning show garden helped to highlight quality, he said. "Quality is important to differentiate us, as is product knowledge," Heald explained.
Students from Homebase's Garden Academy helped designer Adam Frost build the garden this year and Homebase trading director Matt Compton said they have a "ripple effect" around stores. "What better place to celebrate our credibility than Chelsea?" he asked.
He said customers do not have to go to Chelsea to "get a bit of the show" with Homebase's 100-plant range on offer at all its stores and for home delivery.
The number of academy apprentices will double to 24 this year, said Compton, and he expects at least the same number that applied last time (350) to apply again.
Academy members are working at revamped stores, of which 20 are opening this year. The £1m revamps boost sales by 20 per cent.
Neither Heald nor Compton would talk about trading or rebates. A trading statement is due in June. In the year to 1 March, Homebase turned over £1,489.2m (up 4.1 per cent), with 13 closures reducing the store portfolio to 323. Big-ticket sales were ahead while remaining categories were broadly flat.