Businesses across the north and north-east have opened their doors once more as coronavirus restrictions continue to ease.
The garden centre sector has been among those in an enforced a winter hibernation for 102 days after being forced to shut on Christmas Eve as Covid cases soared across the country.
But with a visit and the chance to finally stock up on plants for summer permitted once more, businesses reported a brisk trade despite flurries of early morning snow.
‘We want people to feel relaxed’
Staff at Forres garden centre Mackenzie and Cruickshank had been working to make customers “feel at home” as they returned through the doors.
The Moray business had a bumper festive season before being forced to shut with the rest of the industry.
Now the family-owned firm is forecasting a busy summer after investing £250,000 in extra stock, with shelves and stores “full to the brim” for the reopening.
General manager Ali Wilson said: “The Christmas trade was really good for us – the best we had in a few years. We had to put on a few extra events because they sold out.
“We’ve already spent a record amount for next Christmas because we have to do our buying in January and February.
“Ahead of the reopening we did an online survey with customers just to see how they were feeling and 95% said they felt safe inside, which was really great.”
Garden centres in England ‘hoovering up stock’ after record start to year after coronavirus closures
Mr Wilson reported a “steady” flow of customers as Mackenzie and Cruickshank opened its doors.
He is expecting trade to pick up even more during the summer – with the biggest task potentially being getting hold of stock to sell.
He said: “We’re hoping for a really good summer. We’ve got garden furniture in and we’re working hard at plant sourcing.
“It’s going to be difficult, however, because the English garden centres have had a record start to the year and are hoovering up stock left, right and centre.
“Supplies are going to be a challenge but with a bit of planning we think we can have a good season. If we don’t have what people want, we’re going to try to get it.”
Customers queuing to get inside garden centres
Meanwhile, early morning snow did not deter eager customers from heading to garden centres in the Highlands.
Visitors were waiting as the doors opened at 9am at Munro’s Nurseries in the Black Isle and the car park was full shortly afterwards as the centre welcomed a steady stream of customers.
Heidi Bisset, a partner in the business, said: “When we saw the snow this morning we wondered how it would play out, but people didn’t seemed bothered.
“The closure was heart-breaking for the growers, with all the plants ready to go, and all the staff who were desperate to get back to work.
“Now everyone is buzzing to get going.
“We offered a click and collect service which people liked, but it doesn’t beat getting into the shop themselves and seeing the plants.”
‘There is a real buzz about the place’
Simpson’s Garden Centre in Inverness got “busier and busier” during the day as customers flocked to the plant areas.
Marketing manager Siobhan MacBean said: “We are seeing loads of familiar and regular faces and people really enjoying being back in the garden centre.
“There is a real buzz about the place. It’s been very positive.
“Most people headed straight to the plant area. There are trollies full of plants, compost and growing materials.”
She added: “There was a lot of pent up demand.
“You can see in people’s faces how delighted they are to get out. It’s absolutely super and the team are delighted to see everybody. It’s been great to get the support of the local community.
”Closure has been hard for the team and hard for the customers.”
In the north-east, hundreds of people rushed to the Ben Reid Garden Centre in Aberdeen to fill their trolleys with seeds, plants and accessories for their gardens.
Simon Fraser, managing director at Ben Reid, said their first day was “nice and steady” with customers leaving the centre with “massive smiles behind their masks”.
He added: “We’ve had a brilliant day of trading and it’s been amazing to see our customers come back – it’s like meeting old friends.
“We’ve had more than 200 customers and all of them went away with loads of plants and seeds.
“As we say in the trade – ‘plant the gardens to believe in tomorrow’ – and a lot of people are definitely looking forward to a brighter tomorrow by the looks of what they were buying on our first day.
“They all have big plans for their gardens this year with everything that’s been happening, so everybody was delighted to come in with their list and fill their bags.”