Camden gardening buoyant as trend for urban growing spreads

Camden Garden Centre

Camden Garden Centre - Credit: Archant

Young London renters are identified as one of the biggest threats to the future of garden centres, which risk losing tens of millions of pounds a year in future as garden access declines.

Camden Garden Centre

Camden Garden Centre - Credit: Archant

A report by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) found that levels of home ownership among British under 35s are at their lowest since 1987, which is worrying to the garden industry because getting onto the property ladder is often the catalyst to garden spending.

Garden access for young people has also declined by 13 per cent since 2007, with the situation particularly acute among London’s high density flat-dwelling, transient population.

While Camden seems to exemplify the report’s findings – a third of the borough’s population lived in private rented accommodation according to the 2011 census, with 30pc moving house each year – local garden centres say sales are looking good.

“This year’s been pretty buoyant. I think garden centres in general are having a good year,” says Peter Hulatt, managing director of Camden Garden Centre.

Pot plants in Camille Benett's garden

Pot plants in Camille Benett's garden - Credit: Archant

“In future some people are going to be renting, some are going to be buying. Fortunes may change but people’s interest in being green, in growing their own produce and in creating a green space for themselves is increasing.”

Indeed, environmental concerns and the huge surge in foodie culture of the past few years mean gardening has become an increasingly fashionable hobby among the very young urbanites the HTA report is concerned about.

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This chimes with the findings of a different report, in which gardening was rated as the fifth favourite hobby of 25 to 35 year olds – above going to the cinema – despite the fact that they often do not own their homes.

Camille Benett, 29, a music video director who rents her ground floor flat with a paved garden in South End Green says “I like looking out of the window and seeing the flowers and the excitement when something’s just started blooming for that year. I also really enjoying fiddling about in the garden so it’s not a chore.”

Flower bed in Benett's South End Green garden

Flower bed in Benett's South End Green garden - Credit: Archant

While her flatmate does not get involved with garden maintenance, Benett enjoys tending pots with things that are “easy” to look after such as hydrangeas, lobelia, ivy, fuschia and wild flowers, and posting the fruits of her labour on Instagram.

Budget is often a major consideration in leisure and hobbies for young people and this is perhaps where the biggest real threat to garden centres from this sector lies.

Benett treats shopping for her garden as she treats shopping for her wardrobe, focussing on value for money, convenience or other amenities and frequenting an eclectic mix of outlets.

She favours buying garden products “online or at garden centres and nurseries in the countryside as they’re always amazing and usually have great cafés and weird local products.

Benett does not grow much food in her garden but these wild strawberries were a tasty exception

Benett does not grow much food in her garden but these wild strawberries were a tasty exception - Credit: Archant

“I usually buy plants when they’re on sale because they’re quite expensive items but this often means buying them after they’ve flowered for that year so you need to be patient for them to look their best. I’ve also found great bargain plants from car boots sales and DIY chains.”

Unusually for gardeners in her demographic though, she does not grow edible produce aside from herbs, which she grows from supermarket pots for an instant herb garden.

Herbs are an excellent starting point for urban gardeners in general, even those without a garden, and Seed Pantry, a London-based mail-order gardening company set up in 2009, is aimed at the hipster novice.

Specialising in quality food ingredients, not only do they sell all the necessary equipment to sow and grow via their website, they also have a mobile app that gives alerts and reminders telling gardeners what they need to do when, and have a Twitter feed where customers can get expert advice – traditionally one of the major bonuses of visiting a shop.

Neil Whitehead of Seed Pantry

Neil Whitehead of Seed Pantry - Credit: Archant

Neil Whitehead, the company’s founder, believes that his operation does present a major threat to garden centres. “It presents a different model and a range of advice and support after purchase that garden centres don’t provide.”

The vast majority of their customers live in towns and cities with 65pc aged under 45. Along with other online retailers, such as the Balcony Gardener, which also offers workshops and online tutorials on urban gardening, there are a whole raft of companies who offer products and tips to those “gardeners” who may not have a garden, or access to any outside space at all.

Hulatt at Camden Garden Centre says “we’re a London garden centre, we specialise in plants and products that Londoners want, whether that’s for their gardens, their allotments or their balconies.”

But it does seem that, in this respect at least, the new generation of gardeners have requirements that these more traditional centres cannot meet in their current guise. Personal service and sound advice will only go so far in pleasing the internet savvy bargain hunters and opportunistic urban gardeners of the future.

Seed Pantry plant packs

Seed Pantry plant packs - Credit: Archant

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