FEATURE: Warm weekend heralds start of garden season

Team effort...Liam Bates, Paul Smith, Roger WAle and Tracey Hastings.
Team effort...Liam Bates, Paul Smith, Roger WAle and Tracey Hastings.

Now the sun is out (well, briefly), people are turning their attention to their gardens. So where better for Mail’s Alex Dawson and Andrew Carpenter to go along than a garden centre.

The surprisingly warm weather last weekend is good news for the area’s garden centres.

Plenty of spring flowers on show.

Plenty of spring flowers on show.

It means the Easter rush for new plants and gardening equipment has got off to a flying start.

“We have two windows of opportunity - one is now and one is the run up to Christmas” said Roger Wale, general manager at the large Palmers Garden Centre at Ullesthorpe, north-west of Lutterworth.

“We have to make the most of both of them, and the weather last weekend kick-started the Easter rush for us.”

Ullesthorpe Garden Centre, taken over by Enderby-based Palmers in 2011 - the company’s centenary year - now employs 53 people on site.

Patio designs.

Patio designs.

A busy month will see around 22,000 sales at Ullesthorpe (or 5,500 a week) - that could be anything from a few quid for plants to £1,600 for a summerhouse.

“In the old days a garden market would just sell plants and probably close up in the winter” said Roger.

“Now we’re not just a shop, we’re a destination, where people can spend half a day or so, including a meal.

“And though gardening is still core to the business, we’ve diversified.”

Summerhouses.

Summerhouses.

These days customers would be surprised to visit a large garden centre that didn’t have a good cafe, a pets’ corner and a big selection of decorations in the run-up to Christmas.

“Garden Centres are still very seasonal” said Roger. “People think we’re busy in the summer, but in fact we have quite a lull from mid-June to September, when - sorry - but Christmas starts.”

Despite employing 145 people across its two sites, Palmers remains a family company.

Caroline Jackson (nee Palmer), the current MD, is the fourth generation of the Palmer family to run the firm.

Hot tubs to buy or rent.

Hot tubs to buy or rent.

As for the busy Roger, his job includes making sure Ullesthorpe is up to speed with all the latest gardening trends.

Plants may not change much, but ‘outdoor living’ does. Here’s a trends top 10:

(1) A flame table. Just what it sounds like - a table with a fire in the middle, to provide heat and light

(2) Modular dining: You won’t find much wooden furniture in your garden centre these days, says Roger. It’s all low-maintenance cast aluminium and rattan in blocks that fit together.

(3) Patio kits: Multi-coloured stone patio features that you construct yourself.

(4) Hot tub hire: Not sure you want a hot tub? Then hire one for a weekend from £140!

Steve Adams.

Steve Adams.

(5) Propogation table: A plastic version of a cold frame - but at a height that doesn’t give you back ache.

(6) Solar lighting: A solar cell converts sunlight into an electric current by day, so you can use it at night. A simple solar light bulb costs £3.

(7) Miniature World: Forget gnomes, this is a whole world of houses, streets and people to arrange on your rockery.

(8) Water features: They’re getting more and more clever - the Mail marvelled at the “floating taps” at Ullesthorpe!

(9) A summerhouse. You don’t just want a shed for storage, you want a building that suits your outdoor lifestyle.

(10) Palm trees: OK, here’s a plant at last - the popularity of palm trees probably reflects the increase in foreign travel.

Large animal structures.

Large animal structures.

Anne Atkins.

Anne Atkins.

Julie Lowden.

Julie Lowden.

Ann Nichols.

Ann Nichols.