HASKINS Garden Centres has had to throw away plants worth around £125,000 as the pandemic crisis ravages its peak season.

Ninety-two per cent staff at the Dorset-based company are at home on the government-backed furlough scheme as the lockdown continues.

Chief executive Julian Winfield said the business was working out how its garden centres could reopen with social distancing in place when the lockdown is eased.

Supermarkets and DIY stores have been allowed to continue selling plants while garden centres are closed.

Mr Winfield said: “It’s a serious situation for us, a having to be closed during our main season, and frustrating that the essential retailers like supermarkets and DIY stores have been able to continue selling gardening.”

Plants worth around £125,000 have been wasted. Although some could be given away, most had to go into skips, he said.

“I still feel confident about the sector and garden centres and about the future but it’s going to take us some while to recover from being closed for our main season,” Mr Winfield added.

“Fifty per cent of our trade comes from March to June. We’re already halfway through that period.

“It’s a very serious situation for our trade.”

Another Dorset horticulture business, Stewarts Garden Centres, revealed earlier this month that it was struggling for survival because of Covid-19.

Mr Winfield said the closure also affected Haskins’ suppliers, which are mostly owner-managed businesses.

“We’re supporting them as much as we can, so when we do eventually open, we’re going to have suppliers that can effectively supply us with what we need,” he said.

Haskins has garden centres in Longham, West End in Southampton and at Roundstone and Snowhill in West Sussex. It employs 900 people, around 200 of them in Dorset.

Shortly before the lockdown, Haskins reopened its Snowhill site after a £15million redevelopment and announced it had bought Forest Lodge Garden Centre in Surrey, along with the neighbouring tourist attraction Birdworld. “We’ve got 2,000 birds in Birdworld that we have to keep fed,” said Mr Winfield.

Haskins believes it may have to open its garden centres without their restaurants first, but says it is well-placed to ensure social distancing in the shops. “I want to ensure our staff, when they come back to work, feel confident that they’re going to be able to work and it will be a safe place for them,” said Mr Winfield.

He added: “We’re a gardening nation. We’re very proud of our gardens and it seems a great shame that we have had to shut.

“The encouraging thing is that there was a YouGov poll done recently about where people would feel comfortable to go back. Three out of four people would say they would feel comfortable to go to a garden centre.”