Garden centres pray for better weather as sales slide

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The UK's garden centres are suffering after the country's spate of bad weather, with sales at their worst levels in at least five years.

So far this year, average underlying sales are down 15% to 20%, with the early Easter proving a washout, says the Garden Centre Association.

Now the horticulture industry is hoping for brighter late spring weather.

"It's literally in the lap of the gods," said the association's chief executive, Iain Wylie.

He told the BBC that people were not coming in to buy flowers and other plants because of unfavourable conditions in their often waterlogged gardens.

"We need a sustained period of good weather. The worst thing would be one good day, one bad day.

"It's been too cold and too wet and we need better weather to pick things up."

According to the Horticultural Trades Association, the UK garden market is worth about £5bn a year, with two-thirds of British adults visiting a garden centre at least once a year.

Lost sales

The last time garden centres had such a bad start to the year was 2013, said Mr Wylie.

However, on that occasion, conditions improved in subsequent months, so that by the summer, they were back on track.

Mr Wylie is hoping that the weather will repeat the trick in 2018.

"There will be some lost sales, but hopefully they will catch up with later selling plants," he said.

"Nurseries produce crops that bud and flower at the time they should, but if the weather outside isn't conducive, it's very difficult to manage the production cycle."

If the weather does not improve, garden centres could suffer two poor seasons in a row, Mr Wylie warned.

"The risk is that the weather is not good enough for summer bedding, but it's past the time for spring bedding," he said.

Toby Davies, deputy manager of the Camden Garden Centre in London, said the bad weather had cost his centre tens of thousands of pounds.

He said spring plants, such as primroses, and summer bedding plants, such as geraniums, were failing to find buyers.

He said: "What we have experienced is a backlog of things I would have expected to have gone by now, while the summer stuff is not moving at the rate it usually would."