Irish market forced to diversify to survive as retail nurseries thrive

Specialist retail nurseries are thriving in Ireland despite the grim state of the country's economy while other sectors have diversified to beat the downturn, according to exhibitors at the Bloom 2010 show in Dublin this week (3-7 June).

The fledgling Irish Specialist Nursery Association's (ISNA) members reported strong sales even as larger wholesale growers and landscapers described continued stagnation in the country's economy.

ISNA chairman and Camolin Potting Shed owner Gerry Harford said: "This has been a good year. People aren't throwing money at landscapers, they are doing their gardens themselves, which has helped us go well through this recession. Last year our takings were up 15-20 per cent per show."

Kilmurry Nursery owner Paul Woods described "a whole new sector of specialist nurseries building up". He said: " Over the past couple of months things have been flying. Ireland never had a history of specialist growing, but the shows here have started bringing specialist growers on and now things are really developing."

ISNA committee member and Shady Plants owner Mike Keep agreed: "The large shows offer more exposure for the small nurseries, which is why we set up ISNA last year - to bring awareness that there are these Irish-grown plants here - and we already have 40-plus members.

"Once the general public realised that their jobs were safe then they started spending it again on their gardens - especially if they had negative equity because they weren't going to be moving anywhere soon - and people came to specialist nurseries for advice."

Meanwhile, larger growers and landscapers have been forced to diversify to beat the downturn.

The country's leading landscaper Peter O'Brien entered a garden at the show for the first time to help raise his company's profile in the domestic market. Owner Peter Toole said: "We have always done private gardens but this is just to keep it going because the big developments have gone. We have never put all our eggs in one basket and that mix has kept us going. We are busier than ever but the margins are extremely tight. "

Big growers have also been hit hard as major infrastructure projects were pulled. Flannery Nurseries general manager Martina Wyse agreed that diversification was key. "We have specialised and moved to more retail than wholesale because a lot of our business was built around the housing market and that has had a huge reduction," she said. "We are trying hard to bring the nursery out to the public."

Garden designer Dawn Aston, who won a silver-gilt for her Urban Oasis garden, said business had been slow but her ability to cross between the art and garden design worlds had been crucial.

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