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Brexit and horticulture: will gardening cost more out of the EU?

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Weak pound means more expensive imported plants

union-flag-badgeUnless you work in or own a business in horticulture, you probably haven’t thought too much about the financial effects of Brexit on the industry in the UK.

I must admit, even as a gardening writer, I hadn’t, being much more focused on the domestic political fallout from June’s vote to leave the EU.

Exotics
My much-loved exotics – Cordyline and Canary Island palm were imports although I grew the Echiums and Dahlias from seed bought from a UK supplier

However, as the months drag on, and the pound weakens, the murmurings of dissent look like having a real impact on our horticultural industry – and not a good one, especially here in the North East, where we have barely recovered from the recession.

Let’s face it, if an average family needs to cut costs, it’s going to start with luxuries – and gardening is seen as exactly that by many, especially in autumn/winter. If there’s a choice between food and a bunch of flowers/pot plant, it’s a no-brainer what the vast majority will go for.

It’s the weak pound that’s a worrier, meaning imports will be more costly. Sterling hit a 31-year low against the dollar yesterday at $1.27 and a new low in 2016 against the euro.

Despite our many specialist growers, the UK is a net importer of plants, bringing in more than a third of a billion pounds’ worth of flowers, bulbs, trees, and ornamentals every year. In May, we imported £103.14million of live plants. (Source: www.tradingeconomics.com).

Yucca and cacti
Yucca on the right is a Dutch import

In terms of flowers and house plants, we don’t have the space or the climate to grow enough to meet demand, with these EU countries being the main suppliers:

  • Holland: all flowers and pot plants
  • Italy: carnations, chrysanthemums, foliage, foliage plants
  • Belgium: pot plants
  • Denmark: pot plants
  • Malta: chrysanthemums, `Paper White’ narcissi
  • Spain/Canaries: carnations, chrysanthemums, roses

It looks likely that best buys in the market for next season will be home-grown (but do check the label):

  • Flowering houseplants: African violets, azaleas, begonias, kalanchoes and potted bulbs.
  • Daffodils, narcissi, and tulips: the UK is the world’s biggest grower of cut flower daffodils. Early Narcissi are grown in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, mid-season in Lincolnshire, and late season in Scotland.
  • Chrysanthemums: widely grown, mainly along the South Coast.
  • Foliage plants: Hardy hedgerow types but some exotics too.
  • Seasonal summer flowers: asters, delphiniums, peonies, Sweet Williams, stocks, solidaster, and sunflowers, widely grown but mainly in Lincolnshire and the South Coast.
Primula aurantica Harperley Pink
Primula aurantica Harperley Pink – a hardy alpine introduction by County Durham Nursery Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries

Ah, but a weaker pound will lead to a boost in exports, I hear you say. Maybe for those growing hardy plants, but the UK has lost much of its production base for cut flowers and ornamentals.

There’s increasing energy and labour costs to factor in. We live in a cool climate, so warmer countries will have the edge on growing exotics by saving on energy costs.

Our businesses need to have access to the single market without being hamstrung by restrictive and costly tariffs. The loss of the common seed market, which allows free movement of seeds, similar technical requirements and the ability to trade plant material, equipment and finished plants would be disastrous.

You could say, as such a huge market for other EU countries, member states won’t want to lose it, but it’s a tiny proportion of what will be an overall trade deal – we may just have to pray for common sense.

I’ll return to this one – legislation, labour, the environment, pesticides will all need to be addressed.

 

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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