Greenhouse Canada

Gardening is ‘the new normal’

Despite challenging weather patterns across Canada, garden centres are a hive of activity

August 4, 2023  By Anne Kadwell and Stuart Service

Sheridan Nurseries has noticed the frenzy of Covid-era sales have slowed down a bit this year. Photo by Stuart Service

Garden centres across Canada experienced a significant bump in sales from 2020 to 2022 as customers invested in beautifying their properties. That momentum has continued this year, though inflation’s presence is very much to credit, or to blame, for the buying tendencies of customers. 

While 2023 figures look great on paper, price increases may be showing that unit volumes are down, while dollar sales seem to match those of previous years. 

Another surprise is that perennial sales are especially strong early in the season. Supply issues have certainly improved, however, this story of the summer is being told by the weather, which will always be the conductor of the garden centre’s orchestra.


Patti Ambrock, general manager of Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park, Alta., said that an early spring and beautiful weather has resulted sales being slightly higher compared with figures from the 2020-2022 seasons. 

There had been a shortage of finished plant material on the market the past several years, so the Greenland team did a lot of custom growing of ferns this year. Despite creating more supply, they “still were not able to meet demand during the peak season,” Ambrock said. 

She added that groundcover plants of any kind are selling fast, as well as perennials like Echinacea, Lupines, and Heuchera varieties by Terra Nova, which aren’t typically purchased in the volumes in which they are moving in early spring. 

The scale of the independent garden centres in Quebec are impressive, and full of pristine plant material and lots of customers. Photo by Stuart Service

Weather woes
Sales of garden staples, annuals, perennials, herbs, and veggie starts have been strong at Grow & Gather in Maple Ridge, B.C., said owner Bill Hardy. 

“After a very poor start this spring due to cold and wet weather, sales came back strong through a very good May and early June, which has been an unexpected and pleasant surprise,” Hardy said. 

“Though we’ve noticed that bigger-ticket items, such as pond sales, aren’t moving at nearly the same volume as we saw the past few summers.”

Philip Rispens from Sherwood Greenhouse and Garden Centre in Regina, Sask., experienced a record Mother’s Day. 

“I would say people are investing time and embracing gardening as a hobby,” he said. “Our sales aren’t quite where they were during Covid, however the decline we were anticipating this year is pretty minimal.” 

In Manitoba, at Lacoste Garden Centre, Jordan Hiebert said that perennials have made a significant comeback this year over last.

“Sales of all plants are up considerably, as are pottery and other supplementary products,” he said, added that blooming patio tropical plants such as Hibiscus and Oleander have also been popular. 

The biggest surprise he’s seen this season is that vegetable seed sales have increased by 40 per cent. This seems to be happening across the country and may be a symptom of inflationary pressures driving bigger vegetable seed sales, as gardeners grow their own produce to avoid escalating grocery store prices. 

At Brookdale Treeland Nurseries (BTN) in Schomberg, Ont., President Jeff Olsen highlighted that bad weather and wildfire smoke have been the biggest hurdles for the numerous garden centres across the country that BTN supplies with plant material.

May was off to a great start with a perfect, sunny Mother’s Day. Many garden centres in the Greater Toronto Area even experienced record sales. 

“If you get five solid weekends from end of April till the beginning of June . . . your sales are going to be amazing,” he said.

Buzz kill

Sales of garden staples have been strong at Grow & Gather in Maple Ridge, BC.
Photo by Grow & Gather.

Southern Ontario then experienced nine consecutive chilly, rainy days. As the weather rebounded, smoke from wildfires raging in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Alberta, and B.C. caused air quality to plummet, and the public to avoid the outdoors for extended periods. Olsen said these factors “killed the buzz” of what started out as a promising season. 

“People take one less trip to the garden centre on a crummy weekend,” he continued. “The weather trumps everything in this business.”

Weather is especially a factor in St John’s, N.L., where sales are at the mercy of an unforgiving East Coast weather system. April and May had frequent, below-zero overnight lows, which led to sales of annual plants taking a hit at Holland Nursery, where sales are back to pre-Covid levels. 

Steve Cline, who’s worked at Sheridan Nurseries for 24 years, said he’s noticed the buying “frenzy” of Covid is gone, and that the timing of customer visits have changed. They’re preferring to stop at the garden centre during the daytime and on weekends, and not so much during the late-afternoon hours. 

“We’ve changed our store hours to reflect this change,” said Cline, who is manager of Sheridan’s newest garden centre location in Aurora, Ont. that opened in May. Sales are trending with 2019 numbers, though : “I wouldn’t say sales are softer, per se, it’s just different than what it was during peak Covid times,” he said.

Cedarcrest Gardens in Saint John, N.B. is experiencing strong, consistent sales, though not quite at the 2020 and 2021 levels. 

“Weather also plays such a huge factor in early spring sales; good spring means great sales,” said Cedarcrest Senior Product Advisor Heather Saunders. “We are finding that we can’t keep trees, shrubs or perennials in stock. Many customers are very interested in growing their own fruit and vegetables and are starting their own food forests. Customers also seem to be shopping early to get the product that they want.”

Robin Godfrey, owner of Lakeland Plant World in Dartmouth, N.S., is also seeing a trend towards customers understanding and enjoying growing their own food. 

“We have been steady. Sales were high during Covid, and it does seem this year that this is the new normal, and they continue to be better than pre-Covid sales,” Godfrey said. “Tropicals are the toughest to keep on the shelves – the younger generation nabs these up quickly.”

An interesting perspective of garden retail is emerging in Quebec, where independent stores are gigantic, and packed with pristine plant material and lots of customers. Leanne Johnson, President of Canada GardenWorks Ltd., and Event Chair for the 2024 International Garden Centre Association (IGCA) Congress, recently visited garden centres in Montreal and Quebec City. 

“The scale of the Quebec garden centres is stunning,” Johnson said. “The quality of the plants and just the abundance and inspiration are remarkable.”

The IGCA hosts an annual congress, when over 250 independent garden centre owners and operators from more than 20 countries exchange ideas and tour the best garden centres the area has to offer. Next year’s IGCA Congress in Quebec will be hosted by Garden Centres Canada and feature visits to 10 of the best stores in the province on August 25-31, 2024. 

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