Amateur gardeners should support specialist UK nurseries that help make gardens “richer and more varied”, Alan Titchmarsh has urged.
British nursery growers are the “Cinderella” of the horticulture world, but they are vital for preserving the wide variety of plants which enrich people’s lives and helping tackle diseases that could wipe species out, he said.
The gardener and TV presenter was speaking at the opening of a new Welcome Building at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) garden at Wisley, Surrey, which has an area of its plant centre dedicated to specialist UK growers.
Specialist growers are the lifeblood of a £24 billion horticultural industry, introduce hundreds of new plants each year, hold large collections and grow some of the most unusual and rare varieties on Earth, the RHS said.
But there has been a 42% drop in the number of specialist growers – which are often small, family-run businesses – since 2000.
They face pressure from issues including large stores shipping popular varieties from countries such as Holland, and having no-one to take over when they retire, according to the horticulture experts.
In his speech at the opening of the new welcome centre, Mr Titchmarsh said amateur gardeners are often thought of “no more than the cultivators of window boxes and hanging baskets”.
But he said: “We are the custodians of the immediate landscape that surrounds our dwellings which, joined together like patches on a quilt, make up a huge part of the British Isles, as well as contributing £24 billion to the national economy.”
Gardeners should support specialist growers who help preserve the genetic variety of plants, which is important to building in disease resistance in food crops, flowers and trees.
British specialist nurseries also have high standards of plant health and hygiene which helps prevent diseases coming in from Europe and provide a diversity of plants that help boost wildlife in gardens, he said.
He compared the higher prices of a specialist nursery to the cost of a cup of coffee in a high street cafe chain, pointing out that a “decent plant” for the same price takes longer to prepare, will last longer and do more for the environment.
He said: “Think of them as your local friendly grocer, compared with the big supermarket.
“We need both, but we neglect the smaller outlets at our peril, for if they die, their skills – and their plants – die with them.
“It’s up to us to put our money where our garden is and make the patch of earth we tend richer and more varied as a result”, he urged.
The new Welcome Building at RHS Garden Wisley contains a plant centre the size of four Olympic swimming pools, within which is an area dedicated to specialist UK growers all year round.