Daily Express

Now we can all help in growing the seeds of recovery

- Deborah Collcutt Daily Express writer

BURSTING forth like the apple blossom, roses and cow parsley all around us, garden centres will fling open their doors today, heralding another welcome and symbolic step out of lockdown.

With May encapsulat­ing the transition between spring and summer and the celebratio­ns traditiona­lly held at this time of year intended to bless crops with good luck for the coming months, the move could not have come at a better time.

From an economic standpoint reopening the UK’s estimated 2,300 garden centres and nurseries is just in the nick of time and will save the industry from major losses.

The centres sell produce and goods from about 650 UK businesses, contributi­ng £1.4billion to the economy and employing 15,000 people directly, according to the Horticultu­ral Trades Associatio­n.

The HTA, celebrity gardeners, MPs and other industry bodies have been lobbying the Government hard throughout lockdown to allow garden centres and nurseries to reopen.

Plant growers were forced to start dumping hundreds of millions of plants after Mother’s Day at the start of lockdown in March and the Easter weekend in early April – normally two of the busiest periods of their year.

THEY also missed out on the trade of the sunny May Bank holiday when garden centres would usually be overrun with customers.

One of the biggest suppliers to nurseries, Ball Colegrave, warned the lockdown threatened the long-term future of many nurseries nationwide because it would be impossible for them to recoup the cost of the stock growers started planting at Christmas.

There were fears that firms in Germany and Holland, where garden centres stayed open, would move in on the domestic market. Daily Express columnist and TV gardener Alan

Titchmarsh was among a panel of scientific and economic experts who called on the Government to let garden centres open. He argued that lockdown had made everyone aware of the value of time spent outdoors as a benefit for both mental and physical health.

If supermarke­ts could facilitate social distancing, why couldn’t garden centres, experts asked. Indeed many would find it easier to comply with social distancing than other shops because of their larger footprint, much of it outdoors.

It was also deemed unfair that supermarke­t chains continued to sell plants and gardening supplies, while garden centres and nurseries (many small, independen­tly run businesses) were not allowed to. Worried about controllin­g large crowds likely to flock to garden centres and the potential for the spread of coronaviru­s, the Government resisted demands. But finally today the moment has arrived when gardeners, amateur and profession­al, can get stuck in.

This is not just important for the horticultu­re industry, but also for the morale of the nation. The reopening feels like a gentle return to a familiar and beloved seasonal routine.

Some 87 per cent of homes in the UK have a garden and it is estimated that private gardens cover an area bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined, estimated at more than 10 million acres. Gardens also make up one quarter of a typical city, half its green space.

With 23 million gardeners spending an average of £7.5billion in 2017 and over twothirds of all British adults visiting a garden centre every year, it is clear we are a nation that cherishes its outdoor space.

Gardening as a hobby has gained popularity in lockdown

– for practical reasons as much as for pleasure. With supermarke­ts stripped bare, many took to growing their own vegetables and lockdown coincided well with a bout of fantastic weather.

The hunt – for plants and seeds online and by delivery from local nurseries – added to the make-do spirit of wartime when Britons were encouraged to dig for victory.

IN FACT many vegetable gardens in Britain today can trace their roots back to the Second World War when families supplement­ed meagre food rations with fresh produce.

While gardening has typically been the hobby of choice for retirees, many young people cooped up indoors without a garden have discovered the joys of it for the first time too.

Having creatively transforme­d balconies and window sills into horticultu­ral oases of herbs, tomatoes and potted flowers, they have perhaps understood for the first time the appeal of this calming, productive and gratifying pastime.

Hopefully, as committed horticultu­rists themselves now, they will join the happy throng of gardeners passing through the nursery gates today.

‘If shops are able to facilitate social distancing, why not our nurseries?’

 ?? Picture: TIM CLARKE ?? FLOWER POWER: Gardening centres can bring back much-needed colour into our lives again
Picture: TIM CLARKE FLOWER POWER: Gardening centres can bring back much-needed colour into our lives again
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