Why are garden centres open in lockdown? The reasons why they’re considered ‘essential’ – and whether they’re safe

Garden centres might not seem ‘essential’, but many argue they can provide important mental health and wellbeing benefits

Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 3:47 pm

Boris Johnson has imposed tough new coronavirus restrictions on England, plunging the nation back into its third full lockdown since March 2020.

In a televised address to the nation on 5 January, the Prime Minister ordered the country to stay indoors other than for limited exceptions, in an attempt to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by surging infections.

The Prime Minister pinned hopes on the rollout of vaccines to ease the restrictions in mid-February, but said the new variant of coronavirus, which is up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.

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A garden centre in Ellesmere Port attracts customers with the slogan 'KEEP CALM CARRY ON GARDENING' ahead of England's first national lockdown in March 2020 (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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But how does that affect garden retail? Will garden centres have to close, as they did last year?

Here is everything you need to know.

Will garden centres stay open during lockdown?

A family gather around the television to watch Boris Johnson give a televised message to the nation from 10 Downing Street on 4 January (Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In England, garden centres will be able to remain open during the country’s third national lockdown.

During the nation’s first full lockdown in March 2020, such centres were not permitted to open. They were not deemed as ‘essential’ until two months later, when Boris Johnson announced the first easings of the lockdown, with a “phased reopening of shops”.

They have been classified as essential ever since, and will be able to continue trading during the third national lockdown.

Other facilities that may remain open include supermarkets, pharmacies, off-licences, and builders’ merchants, as well as launderettes, car repair shops, car washes, banks, market stalls selling essentials, and bike shops.

All non-essential shops, hairdressers and personal care salons must close however.

Restaurants and other hospitality venues can continue with delivery or takeaway only, but people will not be able to add alcohol to any orders they collect.

Entertainment venues such as cinemas, skating rinks and bowling alleys must remain closed.

Why are garden centres considered essential?

Those of us who aren’t avid gardeners may be wondering why garden centres have been deemed essential.

In May 2020, Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner said the Government was keen to get garden centres back open to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus crisis on the horticulture industry.

"Our decision to reopen garden centres and nurseries in a safe way, will allow businesses to sell their products directly to the public and in doing so bringing about wider benefits to consumers, especially for physical and mental wellbeing, which gardening can bring," he added.

Tracey Crouch, the former Minister for Loneliness, told the BBC at the time that keeping garden centres open would be good for the public’s mental health.

"Gardening and wider horticulture is often used as a means of improving physical and mental well-being," she said, adding that gardening can provide “a small window of relief from all the bad news.”

Are garden centres safe?

James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications at the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA), has said there is “no evidence that garden centres are a Covid transmission risk”, as many provide large and airy environments.

“Although the developing situation with coronavirus is clearly something that demands action, we firmly believe garden centres provide an important service in enabling better mental and physical wellbeing for people who are trying to manage the impact of restrictions on daily life," he added.

But clearly, not all of the four devolved nations of the UK agree.

In Northern Ireland and Wales, garden centres have been shuttered since the introduction of stricter coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period, and with Scotland’s own reintroduction of a national lockdown, garden retail is on hold there too.

When will the lockdown end?

In his address, the Prime Minister warned that the measures being introduced immediately are expected to last until mid-February.

“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we’re entering the last phase of the struggle,” the Prime Minister said.

It is thought that measures are unlikely to be relaxed until around 13 million people aged over 70 or classed as extremely clinically vulnerable have received the vaccine and been given enough time to be protected – about two to three weeks after getting the jab.

But Mr Johnson issued a series of ifs – on the public following the rules and understanding of the virus not dramatically shifting – before the nation can start “cautiously” moving down through tiered restrictions with schools hoping to reopen after the February half-term.

For more information on England’s national lockdown, head to the Government’s website