The horticultural industry has been one of the worst affected sectors of the coronavirus lockdown, which is estimated to have cost businesses millions since the closure of all garden centres and nurseries during its peak season.
While they have been closed, many gardeners turned to buying from online plant nurseries and garden centres to support them.
All garden centres and nurseries shut on 23 March at the start of lockdown.
Today the government announcedthat as of Wednesday 13 May, you will be able to visit garden centres, along with picnicking and sunbathing in parks, exercising outdoors as often as you wish, being able to use outdoor sports facilities and meet other people not from your household while observing social distancing, as we enter the next stage of lockdown.
These are all the details you need to know about visiting garden centres and the social distancing measures that will be in place to keep them safe.
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Prime minister Boris Johnson did not mention any details regarding garden centres in his speech on Sunday evening, but it was later confirmed on the government website.
Garden centres in England will reopen on Wednesday 13 May as long as they ensure social-distancing measures are in place, while those in Wales will be open from Monday 11 May. In Scotland, garden centres will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Much like in DIY stores that have recently opened, it is likely that garden centres will now allow cash payments and there will be in-store signs and screens at tills to minimise contact between shoppers and staff.
The announcement was welcomed by the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) and its chairman, James Barnes, said in a statement: "We are in peak season when 70 per cent of plants sold are between March and June. Opening garden centres this week in England will be applauded by millions of gardeners and the garden industry.
"This is not only a positive economic move but gardening benefits the mental health and well-being of so many people isolating at home and the importance of having something to do at home keeps you at home."
The HTA is encouraging the sales of products to focus on plants, seeds, bulbs, composts, pots and planters, garden hardware including tools, fertilisers, pest control and irrigation, pet foods and accessories, bird care and food products.
It is strongly encouraging that sales of furniture are made online, rather than in-store, to minimise interactions between staff and customers.
According to the HTA Safety Guidance, it is encouraging cafes and restaurants in garden centres to remain closed, and no takeaway food sold on-site will be allowed to be consumed inside.
In his statement, Barnes said: “We have been working closely with garden centres and while many are ready to open and have been working hard to put in place the necessary measures to ensure the safety of both their customers and their staff, our priority over the coming days will be to provide help to those that need further support. This is to ensure that we can get as many businesses back up and running but only when they can open safely."
Before any garden centres open their doors to customers, the HTA advised that all businesses carry out a full risk assessment of their entire premises beforehand, recommending that all staff be provided with the appropriate PPE, as a minimum this should be gloves and masks.
“Due to the popularity of gardening, we know that there will be a huge surge in demand. We would ask customers before setting out on their journey to check first that their garden centre is open. The Plants Near Me website will show which garden centres have signed up to the Safe Trading Guidance. We hope that the public will be patient with us while we adapt to these new trading conditions,” added Barnes.
Its recommendation is that “customer numbers should be controlled to one per 1,000 square feet," adding that "customers in-store should be limited to this number on a one in one out basis".
To ensure customers and staff are maintaining a two-metre distance from one another, signs on the floor both in-store by checkouts and outside in the queueing areas are advised. The guidance says to garden centres should "open alternate tills to give each till operator maximum distance from their colleagues, or move till points further apart."
It also suggests having "a staff member controlling numbers at the entrance door," as well as controlling "the number of cars coming into the car park and maintaining a one-way flow." Any play areas must remain closed and preferably locked or cordoned off.
Once customers are in-store, the HTA is recommending that visitors should be encouraged to shop with trollies only, avoiding baskets, and ideally all customers should be offered gloves and hand sanitiser if they do not have their own.
Card and mobile device payments are encouraged to avoid the handling of cash and the HTA also recommends the use of Apple Pay and Android Pay to enable quicker payment, and using shop fixtures to tape off areas to control a one-way flow for customers around stores. It recommends to maximise aisle width as much as possible and keep them free from stock to ensure a free-flowing queue.
Gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, in response to news of garden centres reopening, said: "As customers, we need to understand the endeavours being made by garden centre staff to supply our needs under exceptionally difficult circumstances. With joint determination to make this work – and that will involve patience and cooperation on both sides of the till – we can rescue a situation and avert what seemed, a few weeks ago, like a total disaster."
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