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Risk to Scottish horticulture growing each day

by Tess Skidmore

As closures remain in place HTA calls for Scottish government re-think 

Scottish ornamental horticulture growers are experiencing a sense of de-ja-vu as, once again, they face the very real possibility of significant financial damage and the loss of thousands of young plants as a result of the continued closure of garden centres in Scotland. 

Classified ‘non-essential retail’, Scottish garden centres have been closed since 26 December. Tomorrow the Scottish Government will review lockdown measures and with the industry’s busiest time just around the corner, the Horticultural Trades Association is calling on them to re-assess this classification. Without a change, they say, the economic impact will be difficult to survive.  

“We recognise the enormous effort that the Scottish government is making to tackling Covid and appreciate that public health must be a priority, but it is both necessary and possible to safely reopen garden centres in the first wave of relaxations,” said James Barnes, HTA Chairman. 

“Our grower members need a route to market, people need access to activities they can safely enjoy as they stay home and our retailers can provide that with shopping environments naturally suited to operating with first-class social distancing measures in place.” 

Pentland Plants near Edinburgh is a family business that has been supplying Scottish retailers for decades. Right now, their glasshouses are filled with tens of thousands of young plants, including Primroses, Ranunculus and Senetti, destined for sale across the nation, but with Mother’s Day on Sunday 14 March and no prospect yet of much of her customer base being open to the public, owner Carolyn Spray is beginning to get nervous. 

“I'm really concerned we are back in this situation and that once again there’s a risk our route to market will be cut off by the ongoing closure of garden centres in Scotland,” she said. “Last year was bad – the stress was horrendous - but we managed to recover thanks to the re-opening of garden centres in May. 

“The gardening season is about to get going - we’ve got Mother’s Day coming up and an early Easter this year. If those combine with another spell of good weather and we’re still locked down, there’s a huge risk that the between the plug plants we send all over the UK and the finished plants we sell to garden retailers here in Scotland, there is over £2 million at stake if orders are cancelled and garden centres cannot open properly for the spring season.”  

Ahead of the review on tomorrow (Tuesday) the HTA has outlined the need for certainty and an agreed timescale for reopening to Scottish Ministers. In a dossier of evidence collated from its own industry data and from Scottish members themselves, it outlines the delicate balance of a supply chain where growers of perishable plants must be able to plan ahead. Without this, they risk either wasting thousands of plants or being unable to meet demand.  

It also highlights the benefits of allowing garden centres to begin trading as soon as possible, pointing out that opening ahead of the main Spring season will allow footfall to be spread out over a longer period of time, making for a safer shopping environment. Garden centres also enable people to benefit from the positive effect of gardening on their mental and physical wellbeing and provide rural communities with access to local stores selling items such as pet food and winter fuel.  

James Barnes concluded: “The HTA has had some positive discussions with the Scottish Government about re-opening, but our members need concrete dates to help them plan ahead and avoid terrible waste and damaging losses and to give retailers time to plan the safest possible re-opening by implementing our update Safe Trading Protocol. We call on Ministers to carefully consider the plight of Scottish horticultural businesses and take action on their behalf, soon.” 


Notes to News Editors 

The Scottish garden retail sector has a total impact on GDP of £277 million annually (directly & indirectly) and supports 6,700 jobs directly. The Scottish ornamental horticulture sector as a whole supports 53,900 jobs directly and contributes £1.3 billion annually directly to GDP. Scottish consumer spending on ornamental horticultural goods total £580 million per annum, while the Scottish ornamentals grower sector is worth £38 million per annum.1 

Scottish growers supply Scottish outlets, 60% of which are retailers, with a Scottish plant production industry worth £38 million. Supply of bedding plants to garden centres and DIY stores account for 70% of the value of bedding plants supplied by growers – of which 70% happens between March–June and 58% of hardy nursery stock sales are in March-June. 

1 Source: “The Economic Impact of Ornamental Horticulture in the UK” Oxford Economics; 2018