A PLANT nursery which is the biggest UK grower of orchids for supermarkets has turned to selling them straight to the public in a bid to salvage trade from the coronavirus crisis.

New Forest-based Double H Nurseries normally supplies around 30,000 orchids a week to stores, but has seen demand plummet during the Covid-19 lockdown.

But in barely a week, it geared up its website to take orders for dispatching by courier all over the country.

Nationally, there are fears that millions of plants will be binned because garden centres are closed.

Gary Shorland, commercial manager at Double H in Gore Road, New Milton, said it supplied to retailers who are still trading, but business had slumped.

“Although the stores are still open, the demand has gone through the floor because there are not so many people shopping,” he said.

“Many people producing plants for spring for places like B&Q and Homebase and so on are in an absolutely dire situation.”

He said the company had rapidly pivoted to selling its products online in an attempt to avoid flowers going to waste.

“We’ve never been direct, we’ve always been just supermarkets. That’s our DNA,” he said.

“We kind of decided last week that we would go for it.

“It’s a bit of a U-turn for us. We’re used to having four customers rather than thousands of customers.”

The company already had a website under the brand Love Orchids, at loveorchids.co.uk, which was aimed at helping customers to look after orchids successfully. It has turned it into a retail site, with the offer of four orchids for £20 with free delivery.

It is advertising its new offer in Dorset and Hampshire at first but is hoping orders will come in from all over the country.

Mr Shorland said he hoped the idea would harness customers’ interest in supporting local growers through the Covid-19 crisis.

The nurseries are a big employer in New Milton, with 170 permanent staff plus seasonal workers. “We’ve got about one third of our staff on furlough because we’re going to be packing less stuff for the foreseeable future,” Mr Shorland added.