Coronavirus lockdown: why garden centers reopen first

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Hillmount Garden Centers in Belfast

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PA Media

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Not all parts of the UK allow garden centers – but Belfast’s Hillmount Garden Center wants to show it is ready


Garden centers have become the first businesses allowed to reopen to the public – first in Wales and now in England – since the government closed non-essential stores. But why have they been singled out and how will they deal with the affairs of the pandemic?

For home gardeners, it has been a frustration that they have not been able to plant during one of the best springs in the UK for years.

“As an industry, we have probably missed the best spring we can remember,” said Boyd Douglas-Davies, president of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and director of British Garden Centers, a chain of 57 branches.

What this means behind the scenes for many British producers has been devastating. Douglas-Davies said an image of 50,000 Scabiosa “Butterfly Blue” flowers was being shared in a greenhouse, scheduled to bloom for Easter and intended to never reach customers.

Millions of lost plants

“They bloomed their hearts, it was just beautiful, beautiful – you know when you look at a lavender field and you go wow? The scale of it, “he says.

Douglas-Davies says another producer, who owns about half of the seedling market, had to dispose of 450 million in the first six weeks of closure.

“Some of the audience thought we could just put the plants outside the door with an honesty box, but when you look at the scale of the plants produced in the UK and sold in garden centers, it doesn’t was never going to happen, “he says.

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Some nurseries have been forced to compost or recycle several thousand plants


The impact has been “catastrophic,” he says, and the loss of much of the spring season’s income means that one in three producers faces financial difficulties: they cannot replace a lost business. later in the year.

This is one of the reasons why the ETS was working with the governments of Wales and England to get garden centers reopened, successfully claiming that open spaces meant that transmission of the coronavirus was less likely and that it was easier to maintain social distance.

Garden centers remain closed in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that an announcement about the reopening of garden centers could be made next weekend, while Northern Ireland would reopen the garden centers in the first stage of its plan to facilitate foreclosure, but it there is no date for this.

At the Carmarthen Garden Center, which opened when the Welsh government gave the green light on Monday, customers are greeted in the parking lot by a PPE staff member and directed to a queue, with markings at 2 meters from each other.

At the entrance, they are given a cart – which has been sanitized – and then guided through a one-way system. Douglas-Davies says people have observed the rules of social distancing carefully, although demand has been high enough for some to wait in the parking lot before opening hours.

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Others, like The Bransford Webbs Plant Company in Worcester, have opted for lockout online


What they find inside is also a little different. Douglas-Davies says there are only about 25% of the usual seasonal plants.

They don’t have tomato plants in Carmarthen, for example, because producers couldn’t take the risk of planting them three weeks ago.

“We cannot just flip a switch and the factory will restart,” he said. “Some plants will be in short supply and some plants will not appear this spring. The gardens will look different this summer. “

According to the HTA, more than 20 million people in the UK are interested in gardening, and almost nine out of 10 British homes have gardens.

Another argument that influenced the government was that allowing people to work on their gardens would encourage them to stay at home, said Douglas-Davies.

Gardening presenter Alan Titchmarsh thinks “it gives our lives back some light.”

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Gardening presenter Alan Titchmarsh helped highlight the crisis producers were experiencing


“Thank goodness we weren’t delayed another month, otherwise it would have been useless and most things would have been abandoned,” he told BBC Radio 4 Today.

But now, says Titchmarsh, you can plant “just about anything” as long as you remember to water it and watch the weather forecast freeze.

“A nation of gardeners”

The stress of locking in means that many people are rediscovering the appeal of gardening, says Damien Newman of Thrive, a charity that uses gardening to promote physical and mental health.

“Feeding plants is a proven way to divert our attention from the stresses of life,” he says.

“Lockdown has placed limits on us, but growing and caring for plants helps us anticipate with the hope of better days ahead. “

Some studies have shown that just looking at the plants can relieve the feeling of stress, he says, which means that people who only have a window or balcony can also benefit.

This is one of the reasons why Douglas-Davies expects the reopening of garden centers in England on Wednesday to be a popular decision.

“We are a nation of gardeners and garden centers have been at its heart for over 30 years. We are part of the cultural landscape. “

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