STEWARTS Garden Centres says sales in the crucial pre-Christmas period are up by 14 per cent so far.

The company, with garden centres at Christchurch and at Broomhill near Wimborne, says its busiest trading weeks follow the arrival of Santa in the stores.

Terry Head, retail and marketing director, said: “It is true that the increase in footfall adds to the pressures of a working day but I think its fair to say that we are just thankful that our Christmas sales are up on last year by 14 per cent so far thanks to a very loyal customer base and that bookings for Santa’s winter wonderland for peak times are already difficult to reserve due to the demand.

“It’s a great position to be in considering the seasonal gloom reported for many other retailers.”

He said the December sales performance helps keep employment levels consistent all year round.

The company expects to sell more than 2,000 real and 800 artificial Christmas trees before Christmas Day.

Last year, the catering teams in its restaurants served more than 1,700 Christmas dinners.