The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred gardeners to embark on a mammoth spending spree this season, with nurseries, suppliers and garden centres working around the clock to meet unprecedented demand as the nation once again Digs for Victory.
In a major boost to the UK economy, pent-up demand for gardening saw mail-order suppliers besieged with orders during lockdown, while gardeners stripped stores of bedding plants and compost after the government gave garden centres the green light to re-open.
Chief executive of the Garden Centre Association, Iain Wylie, told Candide: “There continues to be some problems with plant availability, particularly bedding plants. Availability is just keeping up with demand now.” Iain said that compost, an essential for filling pots and hanging baskets, continues to face supply issues due to reduced availability of ingredients such as loam and grit, as suppliers re-start production.
Steve Harper, of compost giant The Greener Gardening Company, explained: “We are flat out manufacturing and shipping product. Lead times reported across the industry appear to be about four weeks. May sales are massively up and I anticipate June being 20 to 30% up on last year. By the end of June, I expect to be looking at a record year for compost.” Steve said demand for eco-friendly peat-free compost was “massively up” this season.
Mail-order seed and young plant suppliers have been swamped with orders. The Suttons Group, which runs the Suttons, Dobies and The Organic Gardening Catalogue brands, said demand for seeds soared by more than 1,000% in April. Its top grow-your-own seed performers included dwarf French bean ‘Safari’ (up 1,075%), Tomato ‘Gardener’s Delight’ and ‘Summer Sensation Mix’ (up 900%) and Carrot ‘Early Nantes’ (up by almost 4,000%).
Suttons confirmed that demand for compost has gone through the roof (up by 732%) while gardeners clamoured to get hold of geraniums (up 734%), agapanthus (up 800%) and hostas and heucheras (up 700%). Suttons’ sales and marketing director, Hilary Cutler, said: “Canna is stealing the limelight, with ‘Tropicanna’ sales increasing by more than 2,000%. Maybe everyone wants a little bit of a tropical holiday in their garden?”
Kings Seeds in Essex saw orders spike fourfold in April and May, forcing it to restrict website orders to 500 per day. Horticultural director Andrew Tokely said: “Big sellers in March were beetroot, tomatoes, lettuce, rocket and beans. From mid-April, flower seeds increased, led by quick-to-grow annuals.” At Suffolk-based Mr Fothergill’s, product manager David Turner pointed out: “Our mail-order veg seed sales were up by over 500% in May, compared to the previous year, while flower seeds rose by 300%.” David said that kitchen gardeners turned to the web to snap-up supplies of seed potatoes this spring.
Indoor plants have been selling like hot cakes, too. Burnham Nurseries in Devon, an orchid specialist, saw its mail-order sales soar by 300% during lockdown – with order levels gaining momentum in recent weeks. Burnham’s Sara Rittershausen said: “Flowering hybrids and home-grown species have been in greatest demand. Enthusiasts have been adding to their collections and people have been sending orchids as gifts to loved ones they cannot see.”
Lockdown also saw gardeners sprucing-up their lawns. Guy Jenkins, consumer manager at Johnsons Lawn Seed, said year-on-year sales of its Tuffgrass and Quick Lawn grass seed were up by 35% and 30% respectively, as households titivated their turf in time for a summer of enforced staycations.