The British Garden Centre

A staple of our way of life, the British garden centre started out by selling basic gardening tools and plants, before later branching out into other related products over the years. It has become THE place to go, especially at the weekend.

More than 20 million people in the UK say they are interested in gardening, according to the Horticultural Trades Association. Almost 90% of British homes have a garden and according to celebrity horticulturist and television presenter Alan Titchmarsh, gardening “puts a bit of brightness” into our lives.

Garden Centre

© Edinburghcitymom /

The much-loved presenter of shows such as Gardeners’ World and Ground Force supported the government’s decision to reopen garden centres during the first Covid-19 lockdown in May 2020.

Recognising the way gardening is good for people’s mental health, he backed the campaign to reopen garden centres, after they originally closed in March last year, along with thousands of other businesses, to help stop the spread of the virus.

It was a massive relief for Britain’s army of green fingered enthusiasts when the garden centres reopened for business.


Garden centre history

The British garden centre first became an entity in the 1950s, when gardeners still recovering from the austerity of World War II started wanting more from their outdoor spaces. During the war, the Dig For Victory campaign saw people all over Britain being asked by the government to grow crops and live off the land.

After staving off wartime food shortages by growing their own fruit and veg, the public wanted their gardens to look pretty too. Gardens that once grew cabbages, marrows and tomatoes were suddenly ablaze with brightly coloured flowers, neatly trimmed shrubs and manicured lawns.

Alongside the desire to make gardens look stunning again, horticulturalists and entrepreneurs recognised a need for a new type of retail store: the garden centre. Stewart’s Garden Centre in Ferndown, Dorset, was thought to be the first in Britain, according to documents at the Dorset History Centre.

In 1954, Edward began converting his nursery (a potting shed) into the UK’s first garden centre, which opened the following year. This led to the development of garden centres as we know them today, as the idea caught on.

After owner Edward Stewart came up with the idea to save his struggling small nursery business, the ‘new’ garden centre concept was opened to the public in 1955. Run by his son, Martin, Stewart’s Garden Centre is still thriving today.


Garden centre retail market

Garden centres have become so popular today that they contribute a huge amount to Britain’s economy: around £5.7 billion per year. The Horticultural Trades Association says business couldn’t be better for the nation’s 2,500 independent garden centres, national branded chains and small retail nurseries.

According to figures from October 2020, the lockdowns have ensured business is ‘blooming’! Those of us who have been stuck at home have acquired a new-found love of gardening, and people have been flocking to the garden centres in a bid to get their valuable outdoor space looking nice.

There has been a lot more money spent on gardening tools, plants and seeds during the pandemic, as millions of people have had more time to devote to the garden. Some garden centres reported sales 60% higher than normal over summer 2020. People were determined to make their garden a “place to enjoy”, according to the Horticultural Trades Association.

An estimated three million Brits took up gardening for the first time in 2020, according to research by the HTA. From 13th May, when garden centres reopened after the first lockdown, up to the end of August, sales were up by 60% on the previous year.

The Royal Horticultural Society reported traffic to its website had increased by 500%, as people searched for gardening tips and ideas. In particular, 18 to 24-year-olds were showing and interest, many for the first time.


Notcutts Garden Centres

Automatic Access was awarded a contract to service and maintain the prestigious Notcutts Garden Centre chain, spanning from Pontefract in West Yorkshire to Woodbridge in Suffolk and everywhere in between. Established in 1897, it has remained in the Notcutt family ever since.

Charles Notcutt believed research and education would help horticulture to flourish and so he became the first chairman of the Garden Centres Association in the 1960s. He received the OBE in 1993 for services to horticulture and the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour in 1997.

Nocutt garden centre

Some of the garden centres’ existing automatic doors had been in place for many years and Notcutts needed an upgrade, including a programme of Planned Preventative Maintenance. Automatic Access will work with Notcutts at 17 of its garden centres all over the UK to bring the doors up to spec – a project lasting for one year, with an option of continuing our services for longer.

We are proud to be working with such a highly respected company, in a sector that has really caught the imagination of the public, perhaps more now than ever before.