Many of those dealing with these issues are small, family-run businesses who, over the last two and half years have dealt with unprecedented challenges that have stretched them to the limits while at the same time finding ways to meet the demands of a public that turned in huge numbers to gardening and garden visiting as a way to deal with the mental and physical restrictions imposed by successive lockdowns.
During this time there was widespread recognition of the wellbeing benefits of nurturing plants and spending time in green spaces and we are fortunate here in Scotland to have some of the best nurseries, garden centres and gardens in the UK. Discover Scottish Gardens is a network of almost 100 of these and it includes community gardens, independent garden centres, hotels and B&Bs with significant gardens as well as important plant collections and designed landscapes.
The value of these transcends economics. They are part of Scotland’s cultural heritage as well as vital resources for nature and many, through tree-planting programmes and well-considered maintenance regimes, are doing their bit in the battle against climate change. But if ticket sales drop off in straitened times because visitors cannot afford to put petrol in the car or pay the bus fare to reach them, then the upkeep of these important green spaces becomes even more challenging than it already is.
Meanwhile garden centres are reporting a drop in sales as rising overheads have added up to 15% to the price of every plant sold. Every element that goes into preparing plants, from the cost of compost, pots and fertilisers to delivery charges of these items and then subsequently the transporting of the finished plants to garden centres, has risen significantly in the last year and looks set to increase still further in the months ahead.
Staffing costs too have risen. At New Hopetoun Gardens near Edinburgh we increased all salaries by 6.2% in February, in line with the new Minimum Living Wage. This is only fair as staff are also facing the impact of inflation, but it is another cost for small businesses to carry.
The horticultural industry has regularly asked for the Government to cut VAT on plants to 5%. This would not only help to boost sales and reduce the impact of increased overheads, but it would also make plants more affordable for the many people for whom gardening provides an important source of enjoyment, exercise and wellbeing and result in even more new plants benefiting our environment.
Meanwhile garden visiting continues to be a great value day out in comparison to other activities such as going to football matches or visiting the cinema. The average cost of visiting any of the hundreds of gardens across the country that open in support of charity as part of Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, remains at about £5 as it has for many years, although it is not hard to argue that gardens are worth more; and Discover Scottish Gardens members offer great value to visitors while continuing to offer access to some of the most beautiful and life-enhancing spaces that this country has to offer.
Dougal Philip is a board member of Discover Scottish Gardens and the founder of New Hopetoun Gardens Garden Centre.