A round-up of 2017, a year dominated by Brexit and Xylella


The year started with suppliers nervous about margins, while retailers felt confident of a reasonable 2017.

In March suppliers said they had never known such uncertainty about the future due to the Brexit negotiations. Import costs had risen by as much as 25% with competition making it difficult to pass these onto retailers. 

However, the weather trumps all other influences so that at the end of April garden centres looked to be heading for a record year being 13% up on the previous year. But as ever the year tends to even out and by the end of October, before the Christmas trading kicks in, garden centres were around 3.5% up for the year to date.

Supplier News

It has been an active year for acquisitions of and by garden suppliers

  • There has been consolidation, notably, Elho completed the purchase of fellow plastic pot maker, Ebertsankey; Israeli based Keter Group bought Stewart Plastics; and EP Barrus bought the gardening glove and footwear manufacturer, Town & Country
  • Mr Fothergill’s announced a change in ownership with the majority shareholdings moving to John Fothergill and David Carey from their fathers. News followed that the company had acquired Darlac, the garden tools supplier based in Slough.
  • External investors entered the market. The private equity group, Exponent was the buyer in the long-expected sale of the Scotts Miracle-Gro brands world-wide.  La Hacienda, importer and distributor of outdoor heating and outdoor living products, was bought by the Griffon Corporation for $11m. Capi Europe bought shares and invested in Cadix UK. Ipswich seedsman Thompson & Morgan was bought by BVG, the multichannel retailer which owns brands such as Walton Garden Buildings and the clothes retailer Clifford James.
  • Former owners of Parasene maker H&E Knowles (Lye) formed a new company to buy part of the assets from administrators, so protecting 78 jobs.
  • Wholesaler, Stax bought PDS Logistics. The deal will increase flexibility and improve availability as Stax takes control of its supply chain and offers distribution to manufacturers.
  • SBM Company, which bought Bayer Garden last year, announced a partnership agreement with Italy-based Valagro to  market its garden brands in Europe and the US. For the UK these include MaxiCrop.

Suppliers have also been investing

  • Grange Fencing opened its new distribution site at Harwich; Smart Garden opened a 250,000 sq ft. distribution hub in Peterborough that should see turnover grow to £100m; while Gardman completed a 415,000 sq ft. national distribution centre at Daventry; and timber product supplier, Zest 4 Leisure, bought a new, 9 acre & 150,000 sq ft. distribution centre in Saltney, Flintshire.
  • RC Kemp & Son, a bedding and veg plant grower in Worplesdon, Surrey, sought to build new 12,000 m2 nursery to cope with increasing demand.
  • Briers has launched a quality home textile range for garden centres with fashion conscious customers. The new company has been named Pignut.

To read the full story for any of these items, enter the company name in the Gardenforum search box and click the magnifying glass.

Garden centre headlines

Homebase / Bunnings

  • Following its acquisition of Homebase in 2016, Bunnings opened its first concept store at St Albans in February. Saying that it would open 20 pilot stores during the year. Further investment to convert the remaining Homebase estate of 250+ stores would depend on their success.
  • In August it said the historical poor performance of Homebase was expected to continue in the short term as it announced a £54m loss for the first year. This was followed in October Bunnings reported a 14% drop in sales for Homebase over the last quarter.
  • By December, 12 pilot stores had been opened including the latest at Bicester which tests a smaller format. Another 5 are to open early in the new year.
  • Now we hear that the UK MD, PJ Davis is to take a 3-month sabbatical.

Wyevale refinances

In late spring it emerged that Wyevale had lost the backing of one of its banks and had to be propped up with additional investment of around £25m from its owner Terra Firma. 

In September Wyevale revealed massive losses (£-122m after tax) and a refinancing of its debt. The losses were partly due to writing down the value of its properties by £51m, and partly due to poor trading. £216m of new loans were raised to replace those that were set to expire in 2018 and to provide extra funds.

Dobbies brings in Nicholas Marshall

Shortly after announcing its most successful Christmas ever, Dobbies CEO John Cleland was unexpectedly replaced by seasoned garden centre operator, Nicholas Marshall, who immediately restructured the head office team. He brought in former colleagues from his days at Country Gardens and Wyevale.

In August he revealed his 3-year plan for the private equity owned group, which aims to re-establish Dobbies’ reputation as a quality retailer of British plants.

Hillier reorganises

MD Chris Francis took control of the Nurseries division and restructured the wholesale sales team under commercial head of wholesale Sarah Mills.

He also reorganised the garden centre management after a couple of the team left to rejoin their old mentor at Dobbies. Rob Grayson became the new head of purchasing, while George Hillier, son of chairman Robert Hillier, was made head of property. He also manages concessions.

The garden centres have been investing to upgrade existing sites and Chris Francis said he was ready to make one or two acquisitions.

Blue Diamond heads for £100m

Blue Diamond raised new capital in January to fund capital development. At the same time it received permission to extend Newbridge garden centre, bought in 2015.

In May it revealed a 28% jump in profit to £8.5m on sales that had increased to £92m.

In the same month, Newspan started construction to create one of the biggest destination garden centres in the country at Bridgford garden centre, near Nottingham. A week later Gardenforum revealed that Blue Diamond would take over the lease once the development was complete.

Other garden centres get acquisitive

  • Caulders Garden Centres started the year by buying a 5th site at Cupar. Berwick Garden Centre bought a third site: - Plantsplus is a retail nursery, that they are extending to include a restaurant. Hillview Garden Centres made it 11 sites with the purchase of Shipley Garden Centre in Derbyshire, in January. Whitehall, in Wiltshire, added a third garden centre in February with the purchase of Woodborough. While, Coolings Nurseries took over The Potted Garden Nursery, which is located very close to Leeds Castle in Kent, on Nov 1st.
  • Yarnton Nurseries, the garden centre and shopping village near Oxford, was sold to a property investment fund for £10.3m in April and The Kelling Estate LLP acquired the business and assets of Emcy Garden & Leisure, garden centre on the North Norfolk Coast.
  • Bonnetts Garden Village, owned by Chris Bonnett who also owns the online retailer Gardening Express, opened in May on the site of the former Tomlins garden centre at Brentwood in Essex. In November its main store opened.
  • Rosebourne has started building its second garden centre at a site near Aldermaston. It will replicate the formula successfully developed at Andover which opened a year before.
  • On the outskirts of Honiton, plans by the Combe Estate have been approved for a new garden centre on the site of Meadow View Nursery. It could be trading by the spring.

To read the full story for any of these items, enter the company name in the Gardenforum search box and click the magnifying glass.

Garden centres are investing in growth

  • Chertsey, Squire’s boutique garden centre, was reopened after being closed for a year for a complete rebuild. It was followed shortly after by Hersham. In June Squire’s Woking garden centre was closed for redevelopment to reopen next spring.
  • British Garden Centres won permission for a massive re-development of their East Durham garden centre that will create 250+ new jobs.
  • Leading heather producer Kingfisher Nurseries closed, the owners retired and have sold the site to YouGarden. The expanding online retailer planned to move its operations to the site.
  • Frosts sold its landscape maintenance division to Nurture to focus on its core construction and garden centre operations, where profits fell last year.
  • The Barton Grange Group started the construction of its £8m leisure development to be built alongside its award-winning garden centre at Brock on the A6 near Preston. The multi-purpose leisure complex will offer premium entertainment, dining and leisure facilities, including only the second curling rink in the whole of England.
  • Thetford Garden Centre’s expansion has lifted it into the GCA category for elite destination garden centres. Further ‘out-there’ investment is planned, including a coffee shop in shipping containers – with a stage.
  • A year after its devastating fire Ansell has received planning permission to rebuild. Work starts in January on a building 11% bigger than before.

To read the full story for any of these items, enter the company name in the Gardenforum search box and click the magnifying glass.


We had almost 200 People stories on Gardenforum in 2017, here are just a few.

Industry members that have died

  • Uffe Kloster, commercial director for Playmobil and Lechuza in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
  • Herman Hamer, shareholder and advisor to the board of Florensis.
  • Bernard Tickner MBE, who gifted his home and garden at Fullers Mill to Perennial. His MBE was awarded this year in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
  • Brian Carbury, whose BC Associates supplied handmade Turkish Terracotta Pots, especially to Country Gardens and Wyevale.
  • Stephen Pickering, who started working for Challis of York at 15 years old.
  • Alistair Lorimer, a respected garden centre expert and former director of Blooms.
  • Chris Milan former owner of Woodcote Green Nurseries.
  • David Good, former director of Country Gardens and keen motor racer.

Other People headlines

  • Boyd Douglas-Davies, CEO of Hillview Garden Centres, was awarded the HTA Pearson Memorial Medal. This award is presented annually to an individual for outstanding service to the garden industry.
  • The HTA named Chris Pateman as the new chair of the Association. He will represent the HTA at a senior level to Government and other stakeholders.
  • Non-executive chairman of Klondyke, Bob Hewitt, became also a non-executive director at Kelkay. A couple of months later the former Gardman marketing director, Sarah Downing, was appointed head of marketing,
  • Steve Pitcher started work as Project Manager – Homebase for Bunnings in June, a year after leaving B&Q.
  • Carol Paris, former CEO of the HTA, joined Jackie Eades on the board of garden glove and boot supplier.
  • Mark Portman joined Gardman in the autumn as group sales director after 5 years at Henkel.
  • Family-owned garden centre group, Notcutts, named Sarah Silverwood as Trading Director.
  • After 25 years at the Bransford Webbs Plant Company, managing director Geoff Caesar moved at the end of July to take up a role with Ball Colegrave.
  • Wyevale Garden Centres appointed a new retail operations director. David Anderson joined the group at the beginning of May.
  • Glendale Horticulture announced that Laurence Scowen had joined the business as Managing Director, in January 2017.

Read these and many more People News stories… and add yours.

Other news

  • The threat of Xylella fastidiosa arriving in the UK and disrupting plant movements for many years, became a major concern.
  • There was also the threat that The EU would fail to renew the licence for glyphosate for domestic use. In the end the popular weedkiller was given a reprieve for 5 years.
  • Brexit has been good for some UK growers. Growers Allensmore and Wyevale Nurseries reported increased demand for UK grown plants, partly because of price and partly because of bio-security fears, inflamed by the existential threat of xylella fastidiosa.
  • Following reports of genetically modified petunias being sold in Finland, the HTA alerted the UK authorities to their existence in the UK supply chain.
  • Strong growth for discounters - B&M the ‘disruptive’ discounter with a strong gardening offer, opened 53 new stores in the UK during 2016-17 and increased sales to £2,035m.
  • furnitureoutletstores.co.uk is one of the first UK websites to offer the furniture outlet experience to online shoppers. Their offer includes garden furniture with a guarantee of the UK’s lowest prices.
  • 2017 is likely to be seen as the year that lithium-ion cordless garden tools became main-stream, with Stihl taking its first steps into garden centres doing a deal with Dobbies.
  • Bransford Webbs claimed silver in the AIPH international grower awards in January at Essen, Germany.
  • Wokingham Borough Council finally caught up with Hare Hatch Sheeplands for breeches in its planning consents. The garden centre operation was shut down in July, becoming again a specialist nursery.
  • The project to build a Garden Bridge over the river Thames was abandoned, officially, after the Mayor of London withdrew his support.
  • It was confirmed in October that horticultural wholesaler, LBS Worldwide Ltd, was in administration. It continued to trade, managed by the administrators. In December it looks as if an agreement with creditors will pave the way for a rescue of the business.

To read the full story for any of these items, enter the company name in the Gardenforum search box and click the magnifying glass.

To have full access to the news stories as they break in 2018, sign-up to Gardenforum for £56 + vat for a year, or less if you are renewing or take out a company subscription.

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