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Summer flowers in February? What a joke


Summer bedding plants may brighten the aisles in garden centres, but it’s misleading to sell them in winter. A tiny bit of frost and they’ll die – a waste of time and money – and enough to put people off gardening altogether.

I saw something the other day at my local garden centre that shocked me to the core.

And it turns out I’m not alone – my colleague Steve was similarly shaken at a nursery in Surrey, and the garden designer Philippa Pearson tweeted in horror about a similar sighting a few days ago.

Summer bedding plants – yes, that’s right, summer bedding plants – were on sale. At the beginning of February. For anyone who doesn’t know, these plants can’t survive the tiniest bit of frost, let alone the sub-zero temperatures we’re experiencing at the moment.

Garden centres mis-selling plants

Now, nobody is looking forward to summer more than me. I’m excited to see summer clothes in the shops, even though I’m still trying to track down a decent parka.

And of course as a gardener I like to chivvy nature along, cosseting plants under fleece and glass so that I can enjoy their fruit or flowers that little bit earlier. But I can’t help thinking that selling summer plants in winter is doing no one any favours.

Mary Portas had a pop at garden centres recently, ticking them off for displaying merchandise inappropriately and not educating their customers about what to buy. I’m sure she’d be disappointed to see that these garden centres are doing exactly that.

Let’s stick to the seasons

It worries me that novice gardeners will buy these plants and put them in the garden, see them die, and give up on gardening altogether. There are plenty of plants available now that will give us a splash of instant colour, so summer bedding is just going to have to wait.

Gardening is all about living in tune with the seasons, and appreciating the fleeting joy of a plant in flower. No one should aspire to fast forwarding nature.


Perhaps a large proportion of Joe Public have been swayed into believing that as vegetables, fruit etc can be purchased ‘out of season’ the same applies to summer bedding plants?
I always feel so sorry for people loading up trolleys at garden centres with plants (and parting with not insignificant amounts of cash) that you know don’t have a hope of survival – up here even the hanging baskets end up spending the vast majority of the ‘summer’ season in buckets on the ground due to the wind & rain!

It’s all part of this utterly ridiculous culture we live in now where children and a great many adults know what a pizza box looks like but have no idea what a potato is, and where they see imported, weary, droopy flowers in the supermarket and just think “they’re flowers” but would not know a gladiolus from a pansy, still less whether they are on sale in the right season.

The level of ignorance (which is partially encouraged by retailers and even government because it suits the economy) is frightening and it leads to this sort of situation where the gullible (i.e. ignorant) are clueless and part with their cash in vain.

Yes in Norfolk we’re certainly still having frosts and it would be madness to plant out summer bedding plants now. Perhaps people are buying them to keep in their greenhouses or conservatories . . . no, probably not. With Christmas behind them and a long wait until Easter this year the garden centres are really struggling and the industrial-scale production nurseries that stand behind the garden centres are rushing out their bedding plants to try and capture some early trade. I notice that some of these plants are being bought by or for children to put in their little corner and they will be very disappointed if they are killed off by a cold snap. I enjoyed doing a recent Which? Connect survey on garden centres as we have two excellent indpendent places nearby which are driven by horticulture not homewares and staffed by gardeners and enthusiasts. They do have a few summer bedding plants available [to “meet customer demand” presumably] but they also give good advice to customers and warn of the dangers of planting out too early. A number of the schools around here have been able to create a small garden in their grounds and this does seem to appeal to the younger children so I hope they learn the practicalities of raising flowers and vegetables [and how to attract the birds and butterflies] and eventually enjoy the rewards of gardening. Hopefully they will understand that the best plants do not come in an over-decorated plastic multipack. Despite the harsh weather we currently have snowdrops, crocus, ericas, jasmine and forsythia and other shrubs to enjoy for winter colour and hundreds of daffodils poking up – so easy and so cheap, so why buy summer bedding plants?


georgethorburn says:
12 February 2011

It is quite wrong for summer bedding plants to be sold nowunless it is made absolutely clear that they must be housed in a frost free greenhouse until mid April or even later in the North. Unfortunately the Garden Centre industry is no longer the fount of knowledge of plants and their cultivation. Only 30% of all sales in Garden Centres are plants , bulbs or seeds the other 70% are garden tools, ornaments, furniture, barbecuses etc. Giftware, books, clothing and food are more important to the industry than plants

I often walk through Centres and am appalled at the state of some plants. It is quite common to see dead plants for sale in the DIY stores and in some Garden Centres. Many plants are also grossly over priced compared to their wholesale prices which must slow plant sales up.

I’m not sure if the public do want knowledgeable nurserymen/gardeners to recommend plants, designs and husbandry as they seem wedded to the self service supermarket style of retailing.There are a few excellent Centres who employ plantsmen but the majority seem content with shopkeepers.

A major problem is that apprentices are now few and far between; to qualify and know your job in plant production and care takes at least five years and a lot of study and very few people are taking up the vocation. When the Queen is advertising for an experienced knowledgeable eco- gardener to work in Buckingham Palace for a salary of less than £15,000 a year; it is easy to see why people are not becoming plantsmen nowadays. Any other skilled tradesman such as a plumber or electrician would demand between £40 and £80 per hour in central London and the knowledge required for their jobs compared to the skills and knowledge of a plantsman is much less.