Coronavirus in East Devon: mixed fortunes for horticultural trade

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 April 2020

Lavender, grown by the Ottery company for the National Trust's shops  Picture: Getty Images

Lavender, grown by the Ottery company for the National Trust's shops Picture: Getty Images

Archant

The local horticultural industry is reporting mixed fortunes during the coronavirus lockdown.

Garden centre worker holding plant out of its pot in greenhouse of garden centreGarden centre worker holding plant out of its pot in greenhouse of garden centre

This week, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) warned that up to a third of producers could go bust, because ‘the perishability and seasonality of plants means the sector potentially faces total stock write-off, unlike that of any other industry’.

Locally, companies selling to the public can continue some of their business through mail order.

For those supplying plant shops and garden centres, the impact depends on the kind of plants they grow.

Cathy Lane is the manager of Devonshire Lavenders and Herbs in Ottery and has been hit hard.

Otter Nurseries staff members Liz and Shaun taking seed orders over the phone   Picture: Otter NurseriesOtter Nurseries staff members Liz and Shaun taking seed orders over the phone Picture: Otter Nurseries

She said: “We have lost all our orders for this year.

“We’re doing home deliveries to keep us ticking along but this is our busiest season, the next two or three months, and then that’s it for the year.

“The first week of our isolation was our first really busy week. We had rows of trolleys of plants ready to go, and then everyone cancelled their orders, and we had to put them all back.

“The National Trust is our biggest outlet. We are completely set up to supply all their shops. We grow plants for them and take them to their shops, and now they’ve shut all their shops, and we’re left carrying the can.”

Peter Rider is the owner of Rainbow Plants, a wholesaler in Ottery.

He said: “I have had to furlough all of my staff as I have considered that we are not an essential business.

“Garden centre sales should have been a significant part of our business at this time of year and they are all closed.

“Landscapers for the building sites have also finished so I am left with a few landscapers who I am allowing to collect only on an appointment basis.

“I don’t think we will waste any plants as we are shrubs, grasses, trees etc, so they will wait for demand to recover.

“I am running out of space for the new potting I am trying to do by myself.”

A spokesman for Otter Garden Centres said all the plants at its three nurseries would be cared for while the centres are closed.

Meanwhile, it is seeing high demand for seeds by mail order.

The spokesman said: “The small team doing this have been personally helping people choose the seeds on the phone, and we’ve had some lovely stories of how we are helping people whilst they are on lockdown.

“It is a mix of those wanting to grow their own veg this year – a reaction to food shortages - but also people are wanting to make the best use of this time at home and start something they have always wanted to do but never had time.

“Then there are the traditional gardeners who sow seeds each year – flowers and veg.

“We have also had lots of interest in buying ‘easy to grow’ seeds to keep children entertained – people seeing this as a great time to get children interested in gardening too.”


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