A family-run firm is calling for garden centres across the UK to be reopened to save millions of plants from going to waste.
Garden centres were among businesses deemed ‘non-essential’ and ordered to close by the Government last month as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Porters Fuchsias, which has been operating for the past 35 years, is now joining other growers and celebrities including Alan Titchmarsh in asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reverse his decision and allow them to operate safely.
Porters sales manager Natalie Porter said: “Our trade association is calling for a scrappage scheme for the plants already gone to waste, and then also for garden centres to be re-opened as safely as possible, with social distancing as per supermarkets. Or for a click and collect model.”
Porters Fuchsias is based on Southport Old Road in Formby, just outside Southport, and has been supplying bedding plants to nurseries across the UK since the 1980s.
Natalie said: “We would usually be amongst our busiest weeks now, with thousands of trolleys of plants going out every week to garden centres across the country. But because of the virus, all of the garden centres have had to close.
“Normally, when times are tough, supermarkets would step up and help us to clear some of the volume lines. Unfortunately, they are fighting their own battles to keep essentials on the shelves – so there is currently very limited capacity for plant sales.
“Those supermarkets which sell plants are reporting a downturn in plant sales, as customers are not willing to extend their time shopping any more than absolutely essential, especially when there is a queue of people waiting behind them.
“Plants can’t be paused, so each week we continue to have hundreds of thousands more ready, with a very restricted route to market.
“A few garden centres are doing local deliveries, but this is very inefficient, and orders are mainly for compost not plants.
“Mail order companies are stretched to their absolute limit. We will have eight million plants becoming ready over the next ten weeks, in our nursery alone – if we tried to set up our own mail order, the cost of boxes alone would be in the millions of pounds.”
The result, sadly, is that millions of perfectly-good plants from Porters Fuchsias – and from elsewhere in the UK – have been left to rot, ending up as compost.
Natalie said: “Everybody does plants because it is your passion. And to watch your hard-earned, hard work that you have spent months planning and months nurturing being tipped onto a compost heap is pretty brutal.
“With garden centres forced to close by the lockdown they are gridlocked here on our benches and there is no other option for them other than for them to go on the compost heap. The binning has already commenced.
“To have to bring staff in at a time like this for that purpose adds to the heartbreak of already binning your pride and joy.
“The loss of turnover we have predicted for the first three weeks of lockdown was £350,000 just for those three weeks.
“That increases massively as the season progresses or should have been progressing, to the point where you are looking at a quarter of a million pounds added onto our loss of turnover.
“Online sales can’t help much because of the lack of delivery capacity.
“And not all plants that we grow are deliverable.”
It is not just Porters which is affected.
Natalie said there are many growers within the Southport, Merseyside and West Lancashire area which are equally impacted by this problem. Thousands of jobs are affected.
Porters is currently doing some sales online, and customers can visit their website for more details.
Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh is among gardeners who are calling for the rules to be relaxed so that garden centres can re-open, while maintaining social distancing rules.
He told the Daily Mail:“Gardens need plants, and for the past month – thanks to the closure of garden centres and nurseries – all the plants that have been raised across the UK with a view to supplying a market whose peak activity is between March and May have been unable to leave their growers. They are sitting where they have been raised, going nowhere. We are told they have a value of about £200million and that laid side by side they would cover the City of Liverpool.
“There will be those who scoff, claiming that bedding plants are of little significance in the greater scheme of things. They are wrong.
“Bedding plants, with their brilliant flowers, raise our spirits as well as feeding butterflies and bees. They let Britain bloom from May to October – half our calendar year. They light up dreary towns and cities when planted on roundabouts and traffic islands, lifting our spirits and supporting a centuries-old tradition which is at the very core of the British psyche.
“Right now – with the country confined to its homes and gardens – we have never needed our summer flowers more.”
For more details about Porters Fuchsias please visit: retail.happyplants.co.uk
For details of garden centres which deliver in your area please visit: plantsnearme.hta.org.uk