Seabrook's notebook

Peter Seabrook looks to summer promotions to turn the season round.

A cut in the standard of living for most of us in Britain looks inevitable long term and for those in the garden trade, after the April/May weather, things do not look too good short term. A leading manufacturer expressed the view that garden centres have had two good years and should be able to weather this year's cold, wet spring. I hope that he is right.

Figures from the HTA indicate that garden centre sales year on year are increasing from July to December, so we still have time to turn things around. But meanwhile, with nursery stock suppliers in Holland reporting a slowdown in UK customers paying their bills and with news of one of our nurserymen putting £1m worth of bedding in the skip, some companies must be feeling the pinch.

John Hillier is of the opinion that 2012 is as bad for the trade as the 1962-63 winter - for those of you too young to remember it snowed just before Christmas in 1962 and we did not see the soil again until very well into March 1963.

At that time, most nursery stock was sold bare root so we lost two months trading at least - this year we lost a similar peak selling time for container grown plants through wet weeks in April and May.

Sunny weekends, especially from Mothering Sunday to the second week in June, have always been key to a good year and it remains that way.

Coffee shops have levelled out yearround trading on larger centres, but sunny weather is crucial for a good gardening year.

It is generally agreed that we are running two to three weeks late and woody plants are growing very lush in the summer rain. Roses in gardens are looking magnificent and plants that do well one year usually stimulate an increase in demand the next.

The mass of flowers on beds of David Austin roses at the entrance to Syon Park Garden Centre should certainly increase sales of roses in Brentford. We need display beds like these in flower at other centres to replace the lost promotion that comes with the decline in specialist rose nurseries exhibiting at flower shows.

Grow your own fruit and vegetables remain popular even if this season demand has switched from buying seedlings to more sizeable plants later in the year. My greatest worry is the steady decline in the quality of potting composts being sold to gardeners. This is very evident at schools, where plants do not grow until repeatedly fed with soluble fertilisers.

The HTA slogan "Summer is the new spring" is appropriate this year in my usually dry East Anglia, with soil moisture well up to summer planting.

I live in hope of the law of averages giving us some warm, dry weekends.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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