Garden sector invigorated by new green thumbs

New and experienced gardeners of all ages are expected to continually upgrade gardens that were revamped during last year’s lockdowns, while a strong trend towards indoor plants is also expected to continue throughout this year’s garden season.

Mt Alexander H Hardware has created an inviting green-life space that its customers continually re-visit.

Although the indoor plant space has steadily grown for the last five years now, COVID has again accelerated this segment as consumers continue to create inviting, green spaces within their homes as they wait out the pandemic, HBT Business Manager, Marcella Indries said recently.

“Just some of the trending plants in this space currently include Spotted Begonia, Zanzibar Gem, Monstera, Philodendron’s and Fiddle Leaf Figs which are all proving to be very popular at the moment. Bolt on accessories are also complementing this space. I believe stores can do so well in this area by adding in decorative pots, as well as products such as the Coco Fibre Sticks that are also on trend. The Coco Fibre Sticks are not only pretty to look at but they create a very Chique and stylish space with any vine indoor plant,” she said.

“Australian plants are becoming on-trend this year and I have already jumped on this trend myself, trying my hand at growing lemon myrtle and finger limes. In saying this, there is no doubt that spring is the perfect season for growing veggies. The tomato season is approaching so there is plenty of opportunity to try out new heirloom varieties.”

“Companion planting is also an amazing way to keep veggies safe especially against garden pests. Basil and marigolds planted next to tomatoes not only make delicious food but are wonderful to look at. The humble radish is also now making a comeback and there are many varieties that can be planted,” Ms Indries said.

One trend that is also making a comeback this season is compost and worm farms, which are an excellent way of creating healthy composts for the home garden. 

“Incredibly, compost bins are not an eyesore anymore. The increasing trend of composting is helping consumers convert their waste and save dollars. Tumbleweed is one particular brand that has introduced a great range recently,” she said. 

Products expected to be particularly popular this season include those that are targeted specifically towards the indoor plant category, including potting mixes and fertilisers, according to Ms Indries.

“Yates has a range that has made it super easy for gardeners to care for their indoor plants. Another supplier to watch in this space is WOLF-Garten Australia which not only has an amazing tool kit range, but users can also change out all of the heads on the tools – so they can have one handle and multiple tools. It is a good quality, versatile system which is set to do well in Australia, because it is such a quality, multi-change system.”

“I have also been finding great success personally with the GROlife range of products as well as the Charlie Carp products. Consistent watering will be a theme for my garden this year so having a go at setting up an irrigation system will no doubt be a lot of fun,” she said.

New gardeners are expected to continually to explore the category, particularly after re-discovering their outdoor space during lockdowns. After 18 months of living with the pandemic, Ms Indries believes new gardeners also now want to upgrade their tools after coming in from an entry level, and will no doubt add more to their backyard range this year.

“All signs from suppliers are that things are tracking very well for the upcoming season, which is great considering there has not been a decrease in the pace of sales in the garden category. The garden category is unique in the sense that once you have invested in it as a consumer, you need to keep going with it to prevent shabby spaces in your garden. What I have found is once you are in it you keep going back for more,” she said.

“As lockdowns continue consumers are reorganising their spaces, including the repotting of indoor plants that may have outgrown their current pots or purchasing more indoor plants. Gardens and backyards are now retreat areas and we want them to look warm and inviting.”

“I do not think avid gardeners ever really stop purchasing products because each season brings a new activity. As consumers become more confident in this hobby they will start tackling more advanced gardening activities. I would expect many consumers will continue to have a go at growing veggies this season or looking to replace winter flowers with a new spring potted colour. They might even wish to establish herb gardens or have a go at a composting system, advancing their skills and tackling advanced projects,” Ms Indries said.

Pre-COVID the garden category was already proving to display good growth, but it seems new consumers are gardening for a variety of reasons, including creating spaces that assist with home schooling, she said.

“Parents and grandparents are learning to create an educational space for children by growing food and flowers and passing skill sets down through the generations. This is why there is a big trend towards creating veggie gardens, because it teaches children about nature, how veggies are grown and how garden systems work. This trend is not just coming from small children either with suppliers telling me they receive calls from teens who are also trouble shooting gardening issues.”

“Australians are also growing their own food to ensure food security- due to panic buying – and also because they want to take control of what they eat by cooking with organics or natural based products. This is a category that is expected to continually grow,” she said.

There is also a lot of evidence showing how beneficial gardening is for mental health with the connection to nature proving to be very powerful. Research shows that Australians place importance on connecting with nature more now than they did pre-COVID, according to Ms Indries, who said getting back to nature has been so important for people during this time.

When preparing for the upcoming season, Ms Indries believes a warm and particularly wet spring is forecast, which will no doubt bring an abundance of snails, as well as other pests and diseases.

“Proper garden preparation will be the key to crop success this season and this all starts with good quality soil environment and consistent watering. This is followed by a range of other plant protection methods depending on what you are growing. There will be plenty of consumers navigating this space. A good range of plant protection is a must,” she said.

Retailers also need to maintain staff knowledge by continually updating them on what they expect to be popular this coming season. Ms Indries said HBT plans to assist members by sourcing as much educational material from suppliers as possible to share with its membership. 

“It is important to talk with suppliers on what is new and upcoming, what are they seeing for the season, how we can prepare properly for the season as well. It is also important for us to engage with our members on what they want to know more about in this space and how HBT can help facilitate this as well,” she said.

Retailer education could also be based around industry issues including the change in bird netting laws for Victorians this September.

“Bird netting laws will be changing in terms of the width of the diamond and the way the net is constructed, which will see consumers replace netting systems they might have for their veggie gardens or fruit trees. This will also prevent possums and birds from getting caught up in nets, to be implemented within Victoria initially and then other states will follow,” she said.

HBT already boasts several outstanding green life stores, including Mt Alexander H Hardware in Victoria, which has continued to work hard to create a garden space its customers will continually wish to go back to. 

Mt Alexander H Hardware has so many outstanding, unique features including its decorative pot selection, which is out of this world. It is more of a regional store but really stands out as featuring one of HBT’s best garden centres. Garden Grove in South Australia is another outstanding centre within the group,” Ms Indries said.

“It is stores like these that continue to inspire me and like most of our garden customers, I am very keen to get back into the garden after winter. While I have had a lot of veggies ticking away during winter, spring is a very popular season because there are so many fun products available to grow during this time.”

“I have been encouraging our members to look at heirloom tomatoes from seed, different varieties of radishes, heirloom carrots and I would really like to have another go at growing pumpkins, as well,” she said.

HBT’s preferred supplier – Greenworks – delivers stand out range

HBT’s National Category Manager, Kevin Marshall says Greenworks has grown substantially within the HBT group over the last season.

As HBT’s preferred garden supplier, Greenworks has grown substantially within the group over the last season, particularly as it continues to provide superior, innovative and sustainable battery-powered solutions that exceed user’s expectations. Incredibly Greenworks has now become the only four level voltage platform in the world, according to HBT’s National Category Manager, Kevin Marshall.

The Greenworks range now offers 24-volt outdoor power garden equipment, power tools and vacuums, 40-volt outdoor power garden equipment, 60-volt pro-outdoor power garden equipment – launched this year – and 80-volt commercial outdoor power garden equipment to be launched next season, according to Mr Marshall. 

The garden supplier also now offers Zero turn mowers, Utility Task Vehicle’s (UTV’s), while developing many new innovative battery products that will be released into the Australian market every three to six months. This is particularly achievable because Greenworks now has over 300 research and development engineers working on developing new Lithium battery products every year, Mr Marshall said.

“This is why Greenworks is a market leading outdoor power equipment battery brand in the USA, because it is such high quality and so well-priced. When you put all of these factors together it really gives HBT members a very compelling offer,” Mr Marshall said.

Just some of the products that remain on trend at the moment include Greenwork’s 24-volt range, with the garden supplier planning to bring a new option within this space soon.

“Having the ability to couple 24-volt power tools with the 24-volt garden tools gives the Greenworks range a unique position over most battery garden tools brands,” Mr Marshall said.

“When looking at some of Greenworks’ latest product advancements, the new 40-volt self-propelled dump cart is expected to be an exciting new product to be launched this year. The product targets anyone needing to move items such as building materials, garden clippings/waste, tools, farming and garden supplies, stock feed etc. Holding up to 100 kilograms the handle also inclines up to 16.7 degrees completely tilting up so users can empty with ease.”

Greenworks has also added two new mowers to its 60-volt Generation II Pro-range including the 46-centimetre push, mulch or catch with side discharge mower and a 46-centimetre self-propelled mulch or catch with side discharge, both featuring a heavy-duty steel chassis.

Additionally, a new 46-centimetre hedge trimmer has also been introduced, now available in a kit form including battery and charger within each box. Greenworks also has six new multi-tool options including edger, head trimmer, pole saw, cultivator, blower and extension pole.

A huge range of first-class point-of-sale material is now available for the 60-volt Generation II range, including three new display stands with TVs. 

“In another exciting development, Greenworks has re-priced its 24-volt range to be more price competitive over the next six months,” Mr Marshall said.

Looking to the upcoming season, Greenworks has some very compelling pre-season deals planned and will combine this with a strong point-of-sale program that is expected to again attract consumers to products in-store.

“All of the indicators show that this season is set for bumper sales so pre-season deals are important to get the early adopters in and when the rush begins, our stores will now easily service those customers as well,” Mr Marshall said.

‘The Landscape Association’ navigates uncertain times

One association that has had plenty to deal with over the last 18 months is The Landscape Association, particularly as landscapers navigate new rules around where they can work during lockdowns.

The Landscape Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Julie Krieger said most landscapers are still able to work, unless they live in the current areas of concern in New South Wales.

The Landscape Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Julie Krieger said the Association remains focused on making sure members are aware of what they can and cannot do during these difficult times.

“In this case, only those who work on unoccupied construction sites and are vaccinated can go out to work. Unfortunately, in Western and South Western Sydney where the bulk of those LGAs are located, this is the beating heart of trade in New South Wales. There are also massive distribution centres and warehouse facilities throughout this region that supply the rest of the country.”

“While the lockdowns are affecting the industry, outside of this people are still able to operate and we are working hard with government to try and safely open up more and more. We have already had a few wins, working alongside Master Builders and the Housing Industry Association, as well as Master Plumbers and various people from government agencies,” Ms Krieger said.

Dealing with the ongoing issues that lockdowns bring is also why The Landscape Association continues to sit in a working group with the Federal Government, alongside industry bodies, and maintaining a voice for the residential construction.

“Currently we are raising issues around landscapers working on large acreage properties. Despite the wide space they are working in, they remain restricted because the rules have not yet been broken down into minute detail. It is frustrating for members,” Ms Krieger said.

“For the most part if you have maintenance crews mowing lawns and trimming hedges, they are in the garden and they do not need to see clients and invoicing is done online. It is a very low risk area. But the decision makers have to be mindful of how they are viewed by the decisions they make – by the rest of society. For now, we are just so grateful we have a voice in the working group and we can take those issues forward and get some responses,” she said.

After dealing with a massive boom in landscaping throughout 2020, Ms Krieger said landscapers had trouble keeping up with demand initially, but now they are just trying to keep up with demand while also working around lockdowns.

“When it all blew up last year, there was a huge sense of panic because members were very concerned about what would happen to their businesses. They then quickly realised that everyone wanted to get their garden done because they were stuck at home.”

Photo credit:  Impressions Landscape – Design

“The industry went ballistic from about mid-year and most of our members are still frantic. While demand has gone through the roof, the ready workforce has not changed. In fact, with the lock-downs, fielding full teams is more challenging than ever. But landscaping is a very entrepreneurial sector and landscaping business owners are creative by nature – they are adapting. Though it is challenging, they are grabbing this opportunity with both hands,’ Ms Krieger said.

While timber shortages continue to present challenges for landscape gardeners and builders alike, supply constraints in metal is also seeing the price of steel works now sky rocket by up to 40 per cent in the last six months, according to Ms Krieger.

“The supply challenges are obviously coming from shortages overseas and extended delivery time frames. What this now means for consumers is that landscapers are having to change the way they set up their contracts. While a fixed price contract used to be quite common, landscapers now have to protect themselves a bit more by introducing more of a ‘cost plus’ format for their contract. This way they charge a fixed rate for their labour, but supplies and materials are billed at cost plus a percentage,” Ms Krieger said.

“If they do not do this, in many cases they lose their profit, and at worst they lose a substantial amount on jobs. The more experienced landscapers have very quickly adapted to this and are now mentoring younger companies, but they also said it is a harder sell to clients when a firm quote cannot be provided.”

“The alternative though is that the landscape company wears any increase in material costs between quoting and execution and this can erode any profit they may have made, or worse, make operation unviable. The Landscape Association has also recently run a series of ‘Pricing for Profit’ webinars, by a professional estimator, with a big focus on how landscapers can safe-guard themselves because it is such a big issue at the moment,” she said.

After a massive boom in landscaping in 2020, The Landscape Association says landscapers are now struggling to keep up with demand during lockdowns. Photo credit: Impressions Landscape – Design.

When looking to unique trends driving the landscape gardening sector currently it seems that garden features created from formed concrete are becoming prevalent throughout the industry. 

“Instead of concrete being a base for a pathway or practical application we are now seeing specialist concreters forming be-spoke benches or stair arrangements that may double as seats or kitchen benches. While this is very specialised work, the companies that are doing this are going really well,” Ms Krieger said.

The integration of indoor and outdoor spaces continues to be a focus for consumers, which is why landscapers expect to see the vast majority of projects to focus on outdoor liveability, with outdoor kitchens, eating and lounging spaces connected to both the home and the soft landscape elements.

“Outdoor pots are still huge in this sector, while green-walls also remain very popular and are wonderful for people who live in smaller spaces such as apartments,’ she said.

Irrigation also remains a hot topic within this space, stemming from severe water restrictions implemented just before the pandemic hit in March last year.

“Severe water restrictions were enforced throughout Sydney early last year, because dams were down to 35 per cent. It was also around this time that ‘Smart’ watering systems became common place which is why most of our members now also plan irrigation systems when they install gardens,” Ms Krieger said.

“‘Smart’ refers to systems that have moisture sensing capabilities, so they turn on when plants need water, where watering systems sense the moisture in the ground and turn on when the plant needs water rather than arbitrary timers. These can now be controlled via a mobile phone too.”

“When it comes to garden maintenance, automation is also taking off including the increasing popularity of products like the Husqvarna auto mower, particularly popular in smaller gardens. This not only means no more Sunday morning mowing, but their process actively encourages thicker and healthier lawn growth. These kinds of products are certainly gaining in recognition and popularity,” she said.

For now, The Landscape Association remains totally focused on the COVID restrictions and communicating with members and making sure members are aware of what they can and cannot do during these difficult times.

“At TLA we are 100 per cent focused on supporting our members through the COVID restrictions, interpreting the rules, communicating, supporting and advocating for them to the state governments. Given the situation in Sydney at least, I cannot see our focus being able to shift significantly for the coming months.”

Ms Krieger concluded: “For now, we will continue to enjoy the on-going demand within this space, as consumers continually push to create spaces where they can relax and feel revived, while enjoying their outdoor spaces with their family.”

Lockdown gardeners re-emerge in 2021

Greenlife Industry Australia’s (GIA) Chief Executive Officer, Peter Vaughan has witnessed many changes throughout the garden industry over the past six years, but none as prevalent as the increasing number of new gardeners that have emerged from COVID lockdowns. Australians need to be out, nurturing their gardens is now stronger than ever.

It is for this reason that part of Mr Vaughan’s focus has remained firmly on assisting in-experienced and emerging gardeners coming into the market, particularly with the launch of GIA’s ‘Plant Pals’ program designed specifically to provide new ‘green thumbs’ with all the gardening basics, including how to choose the right plant for their garden.

“As the peak industry body or the national body representing production and retail nurseries across the country, GIA has a role in the promotion and driving demand for greenlife and nursery stock. This includes having oversight of Horticulture Innovation Australia’s ‘Plant Life Balance’ program, which is very much a social media approach to marketing, however it also provides inspiration and ideas on greenlife and how to use it around the house,” Mr Vaughan said.

Greenlife Industry Australia’s (GIA) Chief Executive Officer, Peter Vaughan said for now it is vital that GIA continually highlights the importance of the industry to the Australian economy.

“The most important thing to new gardeners is that their plants do not die. If they die, they blame themselves, not the plants. So, we are telling them not to lose faith, offering tips while also advising them to go back to their garden centre where the experts are willing to help them manage their plants,” he said.

While future campaigns will see GIA continually encourage new gardeners to seek support from their local garden centre, campaigns will also focus on younger generations to become more involved in gardening as well.

Mr Vaughan said recent greenlife ‘Consumer Usage and Attitude Research’, commissioned by Hort Innovation and conducted by The Navigators identified specific consumer segments including enthusiasts, garden proud, early bloomers, small space, curators, dabblers, plant curious and leaf loathers.

“Garden proud gardeners only make up 17 per cent of the market but they spend around 33 per cent into the greenlife sector. Younger men or early bloomers sit at around eight per cent of the market so they are an ideal consumer to target directly,” he said.

While the pandemic has certainly boosted sales within the garden space, even amongst early bloomers, there are some challenges that come with this including the supply of nursery stock for those states in lockdown. 

“While there will be stock on hand the challenge is to access stock as current lockdowns are only allowing tradespeople on-site. The garden centres are now having challenges where they have to ‘Click & Collect’ everything across New South Wales and Victoria. We have encouraged this given how sporadic lockdowns are and retailers need to be prepared for this,” Mr Vaughan said.

While the ability to trade remains a concern in locked down states, GIA has also made representation to the government around the nursery industry being an ‘essential industry’, particularly when it comes to fruit, nut and vegetable production.

“It is vital that we stay operating and deliver the planting stock, while also maintaining the health and well-being benefits of greenlife to the consumer,” he said.

Other on-going challenges are based around water scarcity and security, with dams in Sydney sitting at around 30 per cent just before the pandemic hit.

“Incredibly, Sydney’s dams are now around 98 per cent so this situation does change quickly. What we do, however, is make representation throughout various associations, and the water authorities in particular, when the dams are full. We ask authorities that when water restrictions do kick back in, that they not go too hard on garden watering restrictions given the importance of ensuring the greenspace stays alive.”

“By the same token we also ask that gardeners remain very efficient in their water use with the implementation of drip irrigation and watering at the right time of day. We understand that there has to be a trade off with less restrictions and water usability,” Mr Vaughan said.

As an industry representative body, GIA’s major role currently revolves around the four key areas of advocacy, promotion, sustainability and career promotion.

For now it is vital that GIA continually highlights the importance of the industry to the Australian economy, according to Mr Vaughan, particularly considering it has a nursery gate value of $2.6 billion and provides the starter plants for production, ornamental and environmental horticulture across the country. For too long it had been considered a ‘cottage industry’, he said.

“This is simply not the case. We have a levy that is collected on pot sales that goes into research and development, as well as marketing activities. The ‘industry good’ levy is collected so we can look at advancements and plan for the demand and supply sides of production.”

“Another key area we work on is plant biosecurity and protecting against plant pests. Since COVID we are also now seeing consumers relate better to the importance of disease control in plants. At least now they can draw a parallel of the need to control, mitigate and manage the impacts of plant pests,” he said.

For now, with greenlife retailers well-prepared for healthy sales this spring, Mr Vaughan’s biggest takeaway is for businesses to ensure customers have a safe and easy experience when visiting nurseries and stores.

Outdoor spaces evolve during lockdowns

Award winning Melbourne-based landscape designer, Paal Grant, has built his successful design and construction business from the ground up for over 20 years. In today’s market, Paal is not only well known for his landscape design projects, but also his creation of custom designed outdoor furniture often incorporating art, sculpture and furnishings into each project. 

Melbourne-based landscape designer, Paal Grant, believes consumers will continually invest heavily in their back yards particularly as lockdowns continue.

While Paal’s distinctive style has seen his business grow well over the years, he does note several changes that have taken place within the industry of late, including an increasing demand for swimming pools, with installers now the busiest they have ever been.

“I’m seeing a resurgence in clients seeking swimming pools and plunge swimming pools to upgrade their own backyards” he said.

Paal believes the demand is stemming primarily from COVID lockdowns. As consumers save money on travel, they instead turn to upgrading their backyards in look and usability. 

“Most importantly, we are seeing people invest in their homes to provide a sanctuary for their families during these extended lockdowns and seeing the value in this for their relationships and mental health,” he said.

Fire pits and conversation areas are continuing in popularity but Paal says interestingly these areas are no longer necessarily linked to the house as they have been in the past.

“When the outdoor room became a huge phenomenon, the outdoor space was connected to the house but I feel this is changing. The conversation pit areas are more of a separate zone created at the back of the property and are now more of a destination that you go to,” Paal said.

Current plant demands are driven by the industry and wholesalers who tend to stick with the popular varieties, but also plants that are hardy and easy to maintain for the home garden, Paal said. 

“What is changing a little bit, and this depends on the area too, but with larger scale properties and rural properties in particular – is the use of more tough perennials. I think this movement has been influenced from landscape designers in Europe. Tough perennials will grow really quickly and give lots of colours. If you cut them back, they will come up again and you get an instant garden. In the designer’s world this movement is gaining traction, alongside the use of natives, which is also proving to be quite strong,” he said.

When looking at plants not in-trend – Paal said he has noticed an abundance of yuccas pulled out of gardens lately, whereas 20 years ago these were all the rage.

“You basically see them going to the tip now in trailer loads. They have become huge trees and I have many clients needing to remove them” he said.

While Paal said his work has remained steady over the years, landscapers are definitely a lot busier this season. However, many consumers are finding the price of garden construction to be a lot higher than their initial budget.

“Like the building industry, we are finding that the cost of supplying product and materials has become significantly higher. Some clients who have built a new home may have left between $20,000 and $50,000 for the garden. We are finding this is a great starting point, depending obviously on the size, design and materials specified in the garden. However, to create something really special, the budget would need to be increased significantly. It is the un-seen items such as excavation, drainage, tip fees and bin hire that can be quite a substantial chunk of the budget,” he said.

“Also, a lot of landscaping these days includes built elements, which can also add a considerable cost to the budget. It is no longer just about garden beds, but the hard scaping and structures as well. Then the plants come in and soften everything.”

“Another challenge with the increasingly smaller scaled gardens we are seeing now is that it is tricky to create these beautiful big deep garden beds with only little patches of lawn to work with,” Paal said.

As the trend for garden upgrades and transforming homes into sanctuaries intensifies throughout the pandemic, Paal says he looks forward to continuing to create unique and calming spaces for his customers throughout the COVID chaos.