(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the gardening sector
For much of the 2000s there was a steady increase in interest in gardening matters, for a number of reasons including:
- gardening becoming one of the most popular leisure activities with widespread coverage on TV and the radio, in magazines and newspapers
- people wanting their gardens to be stylish places in which to relax
- the booming housing market, with many new properties built
- consumers enjoying increases in personal disposable income
As a result many people developed a keen interest in how their garden looked and, if too busy or physically unable to do the necessary work themselves, were prepared to buy in garden services of one sort or another.
The economic downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s then caused a reduction in consumer spending on non-essentials. As a result, the amount spent on gardens, plants and flowers fell quite significantly after 2008 and did not start to increase until 2013. As the economy improved, spending on gardens and garden services recovered strongly from 2013 until the first half of 2015. The recovery then slowed in the second half of 2015 and into 2016. The vote in June 2016 to leave the EU added further uncertainty to the economic outlook.
The growth in the economy was subdued during 2017 and 2018 with the result that consumer spending was lower than for several years due to a squeeze on household spending power as a result of higher inflation and little growth in wages. It is expected that growth will remain subdued in 2019, with inflation and a loss of confidence in the economy due to uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations putting further pressure on consumer spending. This is likely to result in both individuals and businesses once again cutting back on non-essential expenditure, which may mean lower spending on garden products and services. Rising prices, particularly due to the fall in the value of the pound, will continue to put pressure on margins.
Domestic consumers spend more on their homes and gardens when the housing market is buoyant. The number of housing transactions grew modestly from 2013 to 2016 but slumped again in 2017 and 2018. Little change is forecast for 2019, for which the number of housing transactions is expected to be well below the peak achieved in 2007. Although prices recovered in 2010 after the crash in 2008 increases have remained fairly subdued since then. With both prices and the number of transactions less buoyant than previously, and with rising inflation and a lack of consumer confidence in the economy, the domestic market for gardening services is likely to be tight so an efficient, high quality operation will be needed to succeed.
Some businesses providing garden services contract with construction companies to landscape new commercial buildings and construct gardens for new homes. Growth in the construction industry was subdued during 2016, 2017 and 2018. New private industrial orders have been falling and growth in the sector has been dependent on an increase in infrastructure activity and private housebuilding offsetting a sharp fall in the commercial and industrial sectors. This picture looks set to remain the same for 2019. There is a shortage of homes in the UK so new building work is unlikely to dry up but a depressed market means that there is less work around for businesses providing garden services that contract to building contractors.
Many horticultural businesses rely on labour from other EU nations, particularly for their seasonal workforce. There are concerns that the withdrawal from the EU will have an adverse impact on the availability of full time and seasonal labour for the horticultural sector, especially as there is a shortage of skilled workers and the shortage is worsening. The cost of imported plants will increase in the short term due to the fall in the value of the pound following the vote to leave the EU and, depending on whether or not the UK retains access to the single market, costs could further increase due to the imposition of restrictive and costly tariffs.
Unfortunately the gardening and landscaping trades have been plagued by the activities of unscrupulous 'cowboys'. Anyone can set up a garden services business - cowboy operatives generally have no qualifications and limited experience. Many deliberately rip off their customers.
A number of initiatives have been launched by both trade bodies and the government with the aim of educating customers and stamping out the cowboys. For example, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) sponsored TrustMark scheme covers garden landscaping businesses and helps consumers to find reliable and trustworthy tradespeople. Similarly, the Buy with Confidence scheme reassures people that all listed businesses have been vetted and approved by Trading Standards.
Keep up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your industry. It's also a very good way of reassuring your customers about your professional integrity and commitment to providing a high quality service.
The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) represents the interests of landscape gardeners. Members must comply with a strict code of conduct and undergo a rigorous assessment.
The Landscape Institute produces a wealth of information for those working in the industry including careers advice. Landscape is the professional journal of the Institute.
The Chartered Institute of Horticulture (CIH) represents the interests of all those professionally engaged in horticultural activities.
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) offers members a range of services and the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) is a specialist group within the HTA that is a national trade association for landscapers. All members of the APL are TrustMark accredited.