Gardenforum reviews a turbulent year for garden retail


2018 news on Gardenforum in 2018 included the collapse of Gardman, the break-up of Wyevale, Bunnings selling Homebase, the departure of garden centre entrepreneur Nicholas Marshall but the return of another, James Barnes. 

March was hampered by snow delivered by the Beast from the East.  This followed by a summer heatwave. 

With the counter still running, around 60 garden centres have closed or changed hands. This includes 40 from Wyevale and 9 from Home and Garden. If the 48 Countrywide Farmers stores were added, this the number would be over 100.

To find more on each of these stories, use the Gardenforum search facility or visit the News archive.

The Wyevale timeline

  • January
    • Ashford GC closed to make way for new junction 10a on the M20.
    • Wyevale acknowledges challenging trading conditions as 2 directors depart to reduce the head office count
  • May 22nd - Terra Firma raises the ‘For Sale’ signs over all 145 of Wyevale’s garden centres.
  • July – Edinburgh Woollen Mill withdraws from the bidding – Blue Diamond buys 8 garden centres signalling the start of the group’s break up.
  • September/October Wyevale sells 20 more centres including 6 to Dobbies including Woodcote Green and one more to Blue Diamond.
  • Nov/Dec 12 more are sold making the total number of disposals 40 (including Chichester).
  • The options for the remaining 105 are still that they will be sold as a group. Alternatively other bidders could be invited back in to continue the break up in the New Year.

The Gardman timeline

  • February – Rumbles emerged about poor service levels from Gardman’s £30m new Daventry Distribution centre. The supplier of bird food and garden sundries promised service levels would be restored before Easter.
  • March – Massive fire destroys Daventry. Gardman reactivates operations at its old base in Kings Lynn.
  • May – Gardman is supplying a reduced core range. Other suppliers step in to make up the difference but their existing customers are given priority as demand soars. Gardman starts a TV advertising campaign on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to reassure customers.
  • August - there are still stock availability issues and Gardman changes back to Robsons as its logistics partner.
  • October - Gardman put up for sale, blaming financial pressures, with two weeks to complete a sale to avoid administration. Westland buys the Gardman assets from the administrator for £4m including stock.

Garden Centres changing hands/opening

  • Companies that have so far acquired garden centres from Wyevale include: - Blue Diamond (9), Dobbies (6), English Salvage, Grovewell, Higgins Landscape, Homeleigh, In Excess (4), King’s Garden & Leisure, Perrywood GC, Rosebourne, St John’s Barnstaple, Tates, Woodthorpe Hall and property developers (9).
  • Caulders was granted planning permission to open its 6th GC on a redundant nursery at Menstrie.
  • Home & Garden’s Stansted Park GC in Hampshire was bought by Paul Richards and is the second to be branded ‘Your Local Garden Centre’ with Mappleborough Green Garden Centre.
  • QD Group added The Barn Garden & Aquatic Centre in Peterborough to its 11-strong Cherry Lane Garden Centres group. This was followed by the purchase of Home and Garden’s David’s Nurseries.
  • Pennells Garden Centres acquired the Four Seasons Garden Centre at Sleaford in Lincolnshire in March, bringing the number of sites in the group to 3.
  • Squire’s bought Frensham GC in August.
  • Rosebourne opened its second centre at Aldermaston in September. A third followed shortly after when it acquired Hampton in Arden (Solihull) from Wyevale, a centre that had been run by Jon Kitching during the Jardinerie/Blooms era.
  • Capital Gardens bought Studley Green GC from Hillview, who decided it no longer fitted their model.
  • Baytree Nurseries is to buy Dents Farm Hilgay at Downham Market in Norfolk. The deal is with solicitors and should complete in January.

Garden Centres that closed

  • Reigate Garden Centre and Squire’s Windsor closed for housing. Klondyke’ Sycamore Park Garden Centre will if planning permission is granted. 
  • The 48 store Countrywide Farmers group went into administration in March. Most stores were subsequently sold, but 11 closed.
  • The Home & Garden Group appointed the accountants Mazars as administrators on 27th. This led to a similar fate for its sister company, Chessum Plants a month later. Some centres were returned to their landlords, others were sold.
  • Struggling Eggesford Garden Centre in Devon closed blaming roadworks as the final tipping point.

Other acquisitions

  • Burgon & Ball was acquired by Venanpri Tools, the owner of the Bellota and Corona brands. 
  • Griffon Corp continued its move into the UK with its AMES subsidiary buying Kelkay in February to follow its purchase of La Hacienda in 2017. Kelkay’s Anthony Harker was made MD of AMES UK. There followed a 3rd acquisition, Anchor Fast, with the prospect of more deals in 2019.
  • Scheurich in co-operation with Baikap announced it would buy Deroma, completing by the end of 2018.
  • Verisem bought Franchi Seeds to create a new major seed group during July.
  • Glendale made it 13 nurseries with the purchase in January of Harvington nursery in Evesham from Chamberlains
  • James Whitely, of online retailer White Stores, revealed that he had acquired Nova Garden Furniture and was resuming wholesaling.
  • Syngenta acquired Floranova a breeder of flower and garden vegetable seeds and customers in over 50 countries, especially Asia.
  • Dutch garden centre buildings supplier, Thermoflor, ceased trading in October following the bankruptcy of its parent The Grimbergen Group. It was subsequently rescued by KSPL Holding and restarted operations but not before Ferry Breugem had joined rival Smiemans Projecten.
  • Westland Horticulture acquired Erin Horticulture in the autumn. The company was owned by Leisuregrow. This gives Westland a base in Irish Republic.

Blue Diamond

An eventful year started with the opening of East Bridgeford GC in March and the purchase of Orchard Park in North Dorset in May.

This was followed by the c£40m purchase in July of eight Wyevale sites and a ninth in August.

In November the group fell victim to a ransomware attack that encrypted all the files and systems on its network, including the finance system delaying the end of month payments.


Dobbies opened the year with the startling news that COO Lorrie Robertson and purchasing director Andrew West had left in a head office reshuffle. It soon became apparent that CEO Nicholas Marshall had left as well although this was denied by the company. It was July before his departure was officially recognise and FD Graeme Jenkins became CEO. 

Results for the year that ended in January showed why, losing £12.5m due to £15.3m of finance charges and range changes implemented during the second half 2017.

In the Autumn Dobbies acquired 6 large Wyevale garden centres including the highest by turnover, Woodcote Green in south London.

The Bunnings timeline

  • February – Bunnings says that its Homebase acquisition is expected to report a £97m loss, plus a £454m write down in the book value of the business.
  • March – JP Morgan says the least cost option would be for Bunnings to leave the UK.
  • April - Wesfarmers appoints Lazards to find a buyer for Homebase
  • May 25th – Hilco buys Homebase for £1.
  • August – Mike Norton is appointed Director of Gardening and Building.
  • Homebase avoids administration after 95% of creditors approve a rescue package, that includes the closure of as many as 60 stores in total and rent reductions at others.

Trading conditions

  • January – Blue Diamond warned of trade weakening in uncertain political times. Figures from The GIMA Barometer of Trade (BoT) showed that raw material costs had risen by 12%.
  • In February the Met Office warned of prolonged cold conditions over the UK with an easterly wind and significant snow. This became the Beast from the East which delayed the start of the season till mid-April, when spring arrived with a bang leading to a bumper May.
  • By June the Met Office was warning that there was a heat wave on the way, which lasted for much of the summer.
  • At the end of June sales had recovered to about 1% ahead of last year after a roller coaster of a ride, which is roughly where they have remained.

The industry remembers

  • Mark Taylor of Kernock Plants passed away on Boxing Day following his diagnosis with advanced prostate cancer in 2012.
  • Paul Dye, operations manager at Grovewell Garden Centre since 2014, died in January at the age of 55 after a battle with cancer.
  • Tony Hewitt, founder and executive chairman of Parkwood Holdings which owns Glendale Horticulture, passed away on New Year's Eve 2017.
  • Influential Garden designer, John Brookes FSGD MBE died in the spring. In a tribute the SGD said, “it is not an exaggeration to say that John Brookes FSGD MBE has influenced us all as designers.”
  • Malcolm Morgan, founder and chairman of the timber company Zest 4 Leisure, part of the P&A Group, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Thursday April 5. 
  • Beth Chatto OBE VMH, the acclaimed gardener, writer and plantswoman died peacefully at home with her family by her side, on the evening of 13th May 2018, aged 94. 
  • David C. H. Austin Snr OBE VMH, rosarian and founder of David Austin Roses Ltd died peacefully at his home in Shropshire on Tuesday 18th December 2018.


There have been a number of changes at the HTA

  • James Barnes, the former CEO of Dobbies, is to return to the horticultural sector as the chairman of the HTA. Earlier in the year Chris Pateman was appointed to the same role, but was gone within weeks.
  • HTA Director of Horticulture, Raoul Curtis-Machin, left the association at the end of June.
  • Boyd Douglas-Davies, CEO of Hillview Garden Centres, is to join the HTA Board as Vice-President to President Adam Taylor of Taylor’s Bulbs.


  • Sheila Hill left Scotts (UK) in March and was replaced by Mark Porter, formerly sales director at Gardman. The company was renamed Evergreen Garden Care in July.
  • Former CEO of Gardman and Solus, Mark Pearson, returned to garden retail as CEO of Primrose following a buyout of the online retailer by Rockpool.
  • Charles Carr, ex Newey Group and Lowaters, joined Hillier as the new head of the wholesale nurseries. He was joined by Adam Dunnett ex Wyevale Nurseries and Wyevale, later in the year.
  • Decco has appointed Andrew Ballantine as chief operating officer following the departure of Charlie Lacey to take up a position as Managing Director of the Stearn Electric Company Limited.
  • Colin Squire, chairman of Squire’s Garden Centres, received an OBE from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace on Friday 18th BBC Gardener’s World presenter Monty Don was also awarded an OBE for services to horticulture.
  • Vitax Limited, appointed Carl Welsh as its new managing director.
  • LOFA announced that secretary Phil Gibbs left the association on Friday 19th October as a new look board explores new opportunities for the association.

    To find out more, use the search box or go to People news.


In the wake of David Attenborough’s exposure of the impact of plastics on marine life, the industry focussed on reducing plastic waste. Initiatives included Taupe coloured plastic pots to make it easier for councils to recycle them.

The industry increased its focus on the potential threat of Xylella fastidiosa and other potentially catastrophic diseases if brought into this country. Other threats attracting attention are the oak processionary moth and the Spanish slug. This month The RHS announced research to counter the emerging threat of the rose rosette virus.

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