THE boss of one of Dorset’s largest garden centre businesses said he was relieved residents had not turned up in their droves as stores reopened.

Stewarts Garden Centres in Christchurch and Wimborne were back in operation yesterday following the slight easing of coronavirus restrictions by the government.

This brought an end to the seven-week closure for the sites during what is typically one of their busiest times of the year.

As reported, managing director Martin Stewart said he was “apprehensive and cautious about the prospect” of reopening, with a plea for people not to “rush down at once”.

To his relief, the centres welcomed a steady flow of customers without being overwhelmed yesterday.

Mr Stewart told the Daily Echo: “It has been very nice and steady all morning.

“You ponder every scenario. We are not like a restaurant where you phone up and you ask if they have a table for two.

“With us, we don’t have control on how many people turn up and we know there has been a lot of people asking, so we were slightly concerned that we might have too many but we took every opportunity to say please do not all turn up at once.

“People have been fantastic. It has been nice and steady. We have been really pleased so far and people have been delighted at the opportunity to get out and get some colour for their garden.

“We have a huge responsibility and are taking it extremely seriously, so far so good.”

The Christchurch centre is currently operating with a limit of 75 customers, while the Wimborne branch is limited to 45.

Measures have been taken in the stores as well as outside to ensure social distancing can be maintained.

“We are relieved,” said Mr Stewart. “You do worry. We said we were apprehensive. One person said if you are apprehensive then don’t open.

“You get apprehensive before you go into an exam. It is a good sign. It means you are taking it seriously and that is what we are doing.”

He added: “It has been seven weeks with our garden centres closed and seeing other people selling gardening has been galling but it is nice to have some life back in the place.”