Sector trends

Why horticultural businesses are putting on a good show

Worth £24.2bn a year to the UK economy, the horticulture sector is clearly blooming, so with this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show as inspiration, we speak to three small businesses to see how they’re faring.

The horticulture and gardening sector shows strong growth

  • There has been an unprecedented level of demand for garden designers in the UK during the pandemic, according to the Society of Garden Designers. Brits spent £16bn on gardening products in 2020, as three million new gardeners emerged as a result of lockdown.
  • People are spending more time in their gardens, using them as spaces to entertain, work and unwind – 45% say gardening has been a coping mechanism, more than cooking or reading. 
  • Experts have found gardening reduces depression, anxiety and stress, while increasing life satisfaction and fitness levels. 
  • The horticulture sector – which spans landscape and design businesses, specialist growers, arboriculturists, florists, garden centres and more – is worth an estimated £24.2bn to the UK economy every year, according to the latest numbers from The Horticultural Trades Association. 
  • Ornamental horticulture and landscaping support around one in every 62 jobs across the country, with two thirds of British adults visiting a garden centre every year. 
  • It’s increasingly attracting the interest of young people too – 80% of 18- to 34-year-olds agree gardening is cool, and more than 50% say they’d rather go to a garden centre than a nightclub. 

Using consultancy to reach clients during lockdown

The consultancy service was an immediate hit, filling in a gap in the market for a small business to work on small projects. Eliza, who is based in London, would hold a short video consultation to get a feel for the space, ask for photographs or measurements, and then go away to produce hand-drawn plans for the garden or balcony. There’s been interest throughout the UK and as far afield as Paris and Zurich.

Turning to subscription and online growth

Edinburgh-based florist Marie Bailey says gardening has become popular among all ages. “It’s nice to see people more interested in openly talking about enjoying gardening and growing vegetables,” she says. Marie is the founder of Ollie & Ivy and has just opened a second retail outlet in the Morningside suburb of Edinburgh. The restrictions on weddings, events and corporate gigs, and closure of non-essential retail stores, severely impacted her business, but lockdown saw her launch a bouquet subscription service and start offering digital corporate workshops.


It surprises me how emotional I feel about our reviews. People have sent elderly relatives our boxes, for example, and said this was like bringing the garden centre to them

James Hunt
Co-founder at GardeningBoxes

Managing increased demand and making future plans

Just outside Taunton, James Hunt says he’s also seen a rise in demand. The co-founder of GardeningBoxes, a plant subscription service he launched with his husband Matt Healey in 2018, says customer numbers have tripled and they’ve been inundated with positive feedback. “It surprises me how emotional I feel about our reviews,” James adds. “People have sent elderly relatives our boxes, for example, and said this was like bringing the garden centre to them. It’s lovely that people like what we’re doing.” 

There have been challenges, of course. When the lockdown was initially announced, there was a three-month period when they had to stop taking orders because they couldn’t get the plants from their growers. More recently, there have been issues with their courier service, which has been overwhelmed by the boom in online delivery services. 

Despite difficulties, they’re pressing on with plans to widen their ranges – including vegetables, colour-themed, and sensory collections. James has also noticed that customers have a rising interest in plants that attract pollinators, linked perhaps to climate change. 

Support for small businesses

One of the unexpected challenges Marie experienced over the past year was the rise in amateur florists offering their services online. Florists are also competing with supermarkets, where retailers buy in bulk and offer growers small amounts for their blooms, giving people an unrealistic idea of the price of flowers.

The pandemic has seen something of a shift towards supporting small businesses, though, particularly in areas of affluence. Research found 63% of customers said they have been more likely to shop at small, local businesses and 67% plan to continue doing so.

Why businesses have flourished during the pandemic

Savvy owners continue to remain relevant by offering:

  • online consultancy
  • subscription services
  • digital workshops
  • tailored advice
  • plans for the future

What is the RHS Chelsea Flower Show?

Organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, it is a place to see innovative garden design, new plants and floral displays, along with fresh ideas for your home and garden. It runs from 21 – 26 September 2021 at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London.

Key facts:

  • Usually held in May, this year it was decided that, following the difficult months of lockdown, it would open its doors in September.
  • Located in the grounds of the Royal Hospital since 1913, it has had plenty of time to expand: the Great Pavilion is around 11,775 square metres and the six-day event usually hosts around 165,000 visitors.
  • There will be a mix of show-stopping displays, along with thought-provoking designs that highlight the importance of nature during our recent tough times.
  • This year will even feature a RHS COP26 Garden, which aims to be a timely call for action.
  • You won’t go hungry – as well as a feast for the eyes, there’s a tempting selection of eateries, ranging from cafes and food courts to fine dining.


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