2023 started wet and cool with one of the latest springs in memory. However, as the year progressed sales overtook those of 2022 marginally, but not by enough to offset the inflation in raw materials, energy and wages costs. Margins will have also been squeezed by actions taken to clear the post-Covid stock overhang, which is still not completely cleared.
Major events have been the collapse of Wilko, juggling of the trade shows calendar and the deaths of some notable pioneers in the industry.
The major non-events have been Government indecision over the peat-ban; Dobbies refinancing which appears not to have smoothed trading relations with some suppliers; modest acquisition activity.
New to the conversation are EOT’s and the YPHA .
Here are snippets from 2023 news on Gardenforum. If you missed any, use the search button (top left) to find the story.
- In January Arena Online Ltd, the UK’s leading ethical flower business, announced the acquisition and merger of Patch Gardens Ltd.
- Fallen Fruits was acquired in April by Esschert Design, its main supplier since 1997, with the aim of developing the business in the UK. This was followed by the arrival of James Brindle as the company’s new sales director.
- Planters acquired the £4m Brookfields Garden Centre in Nottingham in April with plans for substantial growth.
- Sarah Raven’s Kitchen & Garden set out to borrow £1.25m through crowd funding from the public in June to complete purchase of Rookery Farm. It then appointed Dominic Rose, a former director of ASOS, as chairman. In November, Sarah Raven acquired Taylors Clematis to become, she claims, the largest clematis retailer in the UK.
- Longacres Garden Centres acquired their sixth centre – Bourne Valley Garden Centre in Addlestone, Surrey.
- The Dutch-based company, Plant Market, took full control and ownership of the £10m turnover Boningale Nurseries, its brands and its five production sites.
- Haymarket Media Group, parent of Horticulture Week, and Green Solutions acquired Garden Connect, creating a cloud software solution for businesses in horticulture.
- Wellingborough Garden Centre in Great Doddington, Northamptonshire was sold to the Howard Family.
- The Klondyke Group bought The Crieff Food Company, the award winning business based in Crieff, west of Perth, that includes a food hall, café and gift shop.
- Findon Vale Garden Centre became the 4th garden centre in Paul Richards’ Your Local Garden Centre.
- UK ‘wellie’ brand Evercreatures has been bought by French footwear company, Rouchette, as part of a deal for its parent company Astbury Collections.
- B&M plans 125 new stores in next 3 years as it announces another half year of ‘disciplined profitable growth’.
EOT (Employee Ownership Trust)
- The founders of Bramblecrest announced the creation of an Employee Ownership Trust that holds a controlling interest in the company for the benefit of its employees.
- MD Steve McCurdy and his wife Janet have sold 74% of Majestic Trees to their team via an Employee Ownership Trust.
In January it was reported Wilko had secured £40m in funding from Hilco. By June they had hired property agent CBRE to negotiate with landlords to cut store rents. In July the family owners of Wilko were considering selling a controlling stake in the business to ensure a future for the chain. The following month the company filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators, putting around 12,000 jobs at risk. In September B&M announced the acquisition of up to 51 Wilko properties as hopes of a possible rescue deal by HMV faltered.
- In February, The Dobbies chairman and 4 other directors resigned as the company was bought by its main lender, Ares Management. At the same time it unveiled a new focus on everyday value pricing.
- In March, Dobbies CEO, Graeme Jenkins, faced up to 80 suppliers at a GIMA Day Conference and apologised for the payment and communication problems. He said the business had been refinanced and that this was a watershed moment.
- It was July 24th when Dobbies announced Graeme Jenkins had been replaced as CEO by David Robinson.
- Debbie Harding, Chief People and Corporate Officer since June 2022, was made a director of Dobbies.
- Some suppliers reported continuing payment delays.
- In December accounts for the year to Feb 2023, were filed. Dobbies Garden Centres Group blamed difficult trading conditions and delayed re-financing for declining sales and a pre-tax loss of £130m.
- A 6th little dobbies high street shop, the biggest yet, opened in a former Gap store on Cheltenham promenade in April.
- Dobbies officially opened its largest store, the 110,000 sq ft leased garden centre at The Junction Retail and Leisure Park in Antrim on 5th October, creating 120 new jobs.
Blue Diamond revealed plans to invest £3m in the newly acquired Van Hage garden centre in Peterborough with an official launch before Easter. MD Alan Roper said the investment would increase the number of staff from 30 to over 100.
Blue Diamond acquired Beckworth Emporium in Northamptonshire and Fosseway Garden Centre in Gloucestershire in May, bringing the total number of garden centres operated by Blue Diamond to 44, and adding a further £18m to group turnover.
Northumberland Estates revealed plans in July to build a new high quality garden centre for Blue Diamond on land at Cawledge to the East of the A1 in Alnwick.
In August, the Group purchased Glendale Horticulture, the former Meredith Nurseries, from Glendale Leisure to secure future plant supplies.
More than 1,800 bids were placed in the auction, held jointly by the National Trust and Blue Diamond Garden Centres, for 10 saplings propagated from Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree. They raised £30,000.
British Garden Centres
BGC expands plant production capacity. It has leased Hawkesmill Nurseries’ unit at Temple in Warwickshire. Renamed Temple Nursery it will become BGC’s third production unit.
Boyd Douglas-Davies left the group at the end of April to set up his own consultancy business, advising the garden industry and visitor attractions.
In January D. J. Squire & Co. Ltd acquired the shares of Barnsfold Nurseries an existing supplier.
In May Squire’s Garden Centres revealed a number of significant changes in its bid be increasingly more sustainable. In August it became one of the first garden retailers to introduce electric delivery vehicles to its fleet.
The company revealed that Purchasing Director, Darran Oakley, intends to retire at the end of the 2024 season, and that Group Operations Manager, Andy Bunt, would step down from his full-time role. Ricky Bowness, currently manager of Squire’s Milford, will start working alongside Darran in March. Ross McEwan has taken over from Andy Bunt.
Is 2023 the year the YPHA came of age?
The Young People in Horticulture Association started the year by strengthening its network within the industry by adding a second tier of supporters to its sponsors. These included BALI, MorePeople, Evergreen Garden Care and Majestic Trees.
In April it revealed that an online influencer, the Bearded Botanist, had become their 500th member.
By September the YPHA had grown quickly to over 645 members and is heading towards 800.
During the autumn, Members of the House of Lords were clearly impressed when the YPHA made a powerful contribution to the Special Enquiry into Horticulture, chaired by Lord Redesdale.
Other 2023 news
- Double H Nurseries is on a mission to transform houseplant wholesale. The Horti House web shop opened to supply garden centres with British grown orchids and green houseplants.
- Hozelock is to implement drug tests to promote employee safety utilising fingerprint sweat-based technology.
Its parent EXEL Industries acquired an 81% majority stake in Devaux, a French family-owned group specializing in the manufacture and sale of gardening tools.
- Last year’s acquisition of Mr Fothergill’s hit problems with the appointment of a receiver for its ultimate holding company. By July Harwood had taken control Mr Fothergill’s Seeds and Dave Carey, son of one of the original founders, left the business.
- The Griffon board removed the threat of a sale of Ames UK and its subsidiaries: Kelkay, La Hacienda, Apta and Woodshaw and says it is 100% committed to their future.
- The new The RHS Grow App provides a single location to identify the plants you have, gather inspiration for new plants, and receive helpful tips and reminders.
- Wyevale Garden Centres Ltd, incorporated 15 June 1960, was dissolved following liquidation 12 Sept 2023. We charted the milestones of the group that operated 150 sites at one stage.
- SBM Life Science have announced a new partnership with sales agency Simply Sales to help drive business forward and develop closer, more strategic relationships with our valued retail partners for the coming season in Scotland.
Frustrated by the Government's inability to reveal when it intends to ban peat as a medium for professional growing, The HTA resorted to legal action in August to try and clarify its position.
June, House of Lords launch of the New Environmental Horticulture Group (EHG) shows the sector’s importance to achieving national environmental goals.
2023 has been a high profile year for Greenwood Plants. In June it was awarded £2.7 million of funding by National Highways to grow three million native trees from seed, over five years. In October it was voted HTA peat free grower of the year, before revealing in November that it had achieved its 100% peat-free target. In December it was named as one of the 9 finalists, worldwide, in the International Grower of the Year Awards (IGOTY)
It was a year of partnerships for RocketGro. First it appointed Toby Thomas to the role of managing director. Then it became exclusive provider of compost to River Cottage. A little later Barrus and RocketGro joined forces to sell & distribute RocketGro’s growing range of peat-free sustainable compost & plant food. Then Barrus announced the appointment of Graham Knox as its new Chief Executive Officer.
Inverness based garden centre, Simpsons, transformed its roof space this spring, taking a big step forward in its sustainability journey to reduce energy costs.
A major milestone for Miracle-Gro and Evergreen Garden Care as the very last bag of peat compost came off their manufacturing line.
The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) has launched the ‘Say No to Plastic Grass & Plants’ Campaign to raise awareness of the extreme environmental damage caused by artificial grass and plants.
In 2022, peat accounted for only 24% of the total volume of growing media, compared to 36% in 2021.
In June, The HTA said, “The retail industry has shown remarkable voluntary progress in using less than half the volume of peat compared to the previous year. The percentage now stands at just 16.8% and is rapidly declining.”
The threat to plants continued as the Oak processionary Moth was found in Derbyshire, the first time outside the Southeast of England and the Colorado Potato Beetle has been confirmed in Kent
Gates Garden Centre near Oakham in Leicestershire, has joined The Tillington Group, a buying and marketing group for bigger independent garden centres.
Barton Grange, Cowells, St Peter’s and Tong Garden Centres signed up to the Prosper Buying Group.
Choice, the buying and marketing group for medium sized independent garden centres, has added 7 new members increasing its membership to 52.
The much trumpeted Connect @ Autumn Fair turned into a fiasco. It was designed to revolutionise the traditional trade show model by connecting retailers and brands on a scale never achieved before. Frustration with the ‘shambles’ caused by the Connect appointments system led to a protest by exhibitors in the aisles of Hall 20 and locked doors. Hyve later abandoned the programme for Spring Fair, Autumn Fair and Glee in 2024.
It has been a turbulent year for shows as they try to respond to changing purchasing lead times and a post-Covid market.
In September the long running The Landscape show scheduled for 27th and 28th September at the NEC was postponed until the Spring.
The organising team at Glee celebrated winning the Best UK Trade Show Award (+8000 sq ft) at the Association of Exhibition Awards, immediately prior to the 2023 event.
Glee was held at the end of June. The question for many people was, “Should it go back to September?” But organisers insisted June was a fixed date for 2024. By November, following retailer consultations. Hyve moved the 2024 trade show to September.
- Hyve is launching a new responsible sourcing show in September 2024. Co-located with Glee, Source Garden aims to bring hundreds of the best suppliers and manufacturers from around the globe to the NEC Birmingham.
- The organisers of PATS, the UK’s National Pet Industry Event, have announced the launch of a THREE-DAY exhibition to take place at the Telford International Centre in 2024.
The new event, on Sunday 29th September to Tuesday 1st October 2024, will become an all-encompassing show as the two PATS exhibitions – Sandown and Telford – merge into one.
- There’s a new show in the garden centre calendar for October 2024. Garden Centre Expo is attracting leading industry figures as speakers including Alan Roper and Peter Burks. It will run alongside the established Futurescape organised by Eljays44, whose dates have been brought forward from November for 2024.
- Nicola Meadows became divisional managing director for the retail, manufacturing and engineering division of Hyve Group plc, which includes Glee, Spring and Autumn Fairs.
- James Oakey's appointment as Buying Director of Hayloft Plants Ltd will make the retirement of the founders, Yvonne & Derek Jarman, much easier within the next couple of years.
- Chairman Robert Hillier will be standing down from his position of Chairman of Hillier Nurseries and will hand the reins of the family-run business to his son, George.
- Evergreen Garden Care announced that Ian Hepburn, marketing director for two years, will be leaving the company with Rich Fisher succeeding him from January 3rd, 2023.
- At the beginning of the year Caroline Owen, Managing Director of Scotsdales Garden Centres, took over the chairmanship of the Tillington Group from Dennis Espley.
- After 35 years at the helm of Whartons Garden Roses Managing Director, Robert Wharton became Chairman, stepping aside for Paul Wharton to take on the role of Managing Director.
- Boyd Douglas-Davies left British Garden Centres (BGC) at the end of April to set up his own consultancy business.
- The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) welcomed Fran Barnes as its Chief Executive in January, completing the strengthening of its senior leadership team.
- The Bransford Webbs Plant Company announced that David Chilvers and Karl O’Neill have joined the board of directors as Sales and Marketing Director and Technical Production Director respectively.
- Two Hillier Nurseries innovators retired earlier this year: Alan Postill, one of the UK’s greatest plant breeders, and Nursery Manager Dave Hooker, who has worked for Hillier for 43 years.
- Brian Daniels, Bents’ Finance Director who joined the team in 1993 when Ron and his wife Wendy were running the business, has retired.
- Colin Wetherley-Mein, GIMA Membership Ambassador, retired from GIMA, the leading garden retail supplier organisation.
- After 23 years at Bransford Webbs and over 40 years in the horticultural industry, Adrian Marksell has retired.
Paul Cooling of Coolings Nurseries died on the 29th of December 2022 having suffered a massive stroke.
Alastair Jackson, General Manager at Poplars garden centre lost a short battle with cancer and died peacefully, at home, on December 27th 2022.
Mr David Rayner, father of Caroline Owen and Ben Rayner of Scotsdales Garden Centre died unexpectedly, but peacefully in his sleep on Saturday 14th January. He was 94.
Keith Butters passed away peacefully at his home. He was 90. He built a market leading multi-million-pound business distributing houseplants.
Peter Dawson, the respected former editor of Nurseryman & Garden Centre magazine and contributor to Gardenforum, died at the age of 82 in February.
Jeffrey Bernhard OBE, one of the pioneers of the horticulture industry, died at the age of 100. He was a grower, a landscaper and operated a garden centre.