Nurseries have said that mixed weather in the first months of the year has meant a slow start to the season, but there are signs that business could improve.
Nursery stock growers exhibiting at the British Plant Fair in Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, said despite some caution, business picked up when the weather improved, suggesting that 2013 has the potential to be a good year if conditions turn out to be favourable.
Bransford Webbs managing director Geoff Caesar said: "We're ahead of our target. We're behind last year, which is what you would expect. The crops are behind last year too. It has stayed cold and the light levels have been low. Sales have been tracking with the crops. If sales were better we wouldn't have the crops to supply."
Viking Nurseries sales manager Fabio Guizzo added: "Sales were lower in January but were picking up in February. People are being a bit cautious. It's just a case of the weather. When we had a warm week, it picked up. It just gives you a sign."
He said the nursery had coped well with 2012 conditions. "We didn't do too badly. We managed to sell all our rhododendrons and all the shrubs. Things were slower but we achieved our targets to sell what we had in stock so we can't really complain."
He added that the nursery is planning to expand its hydrangea range for this summer. "They carry us over the summer months. We're increasing the numbers from 4000 to 8-10,000 this year. This is the second year we're doing them. We have a nursery in Norway and are doing a lot more over there. There is a really big market there."
Ted Cook of conifer grower Hill View Nurseries said: "We had a very good January. February is always quieter but the last two weeks of February were okay. March is always better when people start stocking up for spring. We are more optimistic this year - lightning doesn't strike the same place twice."
Just Must Perennials administrator Jayne Grove said the nursery did well last year because of its large range and specialisation in plugs, which meant sales were made before the weather turned. "We thought we would be down this year but we're not," she added. "We sell to nurseries and the nursery trade has not been hit as much as retail."
British Plant Fair Exhibitors take orders and meet new customers
Exhibitors at the British Plant Fair (7 March) have said the show was a success, although some would have preferred it earlier due to Mother's Day (10 March).
The show took place a week later than planned because of a double booking at the venue, Stoneleigh Park, meaning it was held on the Thursday before Mothering Sunday.
Baginton Nurseries production manager Jack Olds said: "It is close to Mother's Day so people have already ordered. A lot of our customers are still out at garden centres." He added that business at the show was better for the herbaceous perennials growers exhibiting.
However, many said the show went well, taking orders and meeting new customers. "It's at the right time of year," said Blue Ribbon Plants sales manager Philip Sanders.
British Plant Fair organiser Geoff Caesar said: "People have done less business before the show than they had last year. We have 40 stands and would like to get another four. People like Darby and Farplants are visiting.
"It's not an expensive show - it's one day. At Glee we were spending a fortune on our stand. We discourage people from putting clever stands up - they don't have time. We've run them before in April/May and July/August. This one is about right - it kicks-off the season."