Customers in Northern Ireland call for garden centres to be re-opened to support health and wellbeing

by Angela Bean

Frustrated plant-lovers in Northern Ireland want Ministers to consider the impact of continued restrictions on their health and wellbeing as they review lockdown today (Tuesday). 

Garden centres there have been unable to trade since lockdown restrictions on non-essential retail were put in place on 26 December and now, with the key Spring season underway, their customers are desperate to get access to plants, seeds and gardening equipment they need to get garden projects underway. 

Robert Park, a regular customer at Inver Garden Centre, said: “The garden year for me is usually sowing seeds and potatoes from January to March, cleaning up from February to April, then planting out from May onwards, but this year I’ve not been able to start the gardening year, and this has affected my mental and physical health, which is significantly worse than last year. People like me, who see gardening as a hobby, rely on garden centres for inspiration, support and advice from others. I can’t plan and neither can garden centres as Stormont gives no date on easement.” 

Louise from Altnagelvin, who commented on a petition organised by Montgomery Nurseries and Garden Centre, said: “Having your garden looking bright and cheerful really lifts your mental health. Not everyone can afford the delivery charge if they cannot go to the store. Please open to help these garden centres survive and improve people's mental health.” 

Members of the sector’s trade body, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) said Ministers should fully recognise the unique nature of the industry’s supply chain and take the huge contribution to people’s health and wellbeing made by plants and gardening into consideration.  

John Shannon, HTA Council representative for Northern Ireland, and partner at Inver Garden Centre, said: “Plants and gardening offer incredible health and wellbeing benefits and after so long spent in lockdown, I know our customers want to get on with a range of projects. It’s a safe and healthy activity which keeps people at home and if we are to meet demand when reopening is possible, we need a timeline to help us manage the supply chain of perishable and seasonal crops and minimise the impact of this continued uncertainty.”   

HTA Chairman, James Barnes said: “We fully understand the need to protect public health and support the government in its determination to fight the spread of Covid. Garden centres provide one of the safest retailing environments with light, well ventilated, airy and outdoor spaces. The sector is suffering, with businesses being pushed to the brink at what should be the busiest time of year. Horticultural businesses in Northern Ireland have just missed out on Mother’s Day - one of the year’s biggest trading days. We need a clear timetable for reopening to help the industry plan how to survive and to safeguard a sector that facilitates the wellbeing of the health and wealth of the nation.  We call on Ministers to follow the lead of their counterparts in Wales and Scotland and save our sector in Northern Ireland.” 

The Northern Ireland Government meet today to discuss easing lockdown restrictions and the HTA is calling for Ministers to consider the re-opening of garden centres at the earliest opportunity.