Following in the footsteps of prissy party-planning Pippa Middleton, our very own Alan Titchmarsh has signed a deal with the nation’s smartest supermarket, and is hence forth to become the face of the new Waitrose gardening range. The nation’s most famous gardener, has been reeled in by the supermarket chain, to develop and launch their new gardening product line, write articles in their magazine, feature on their website, and to top it off, star in their television adverts. Hopefully, the proverbial full-sized cardboard cut-outs will also be on hand to help guide us through the ever extending maze of delectable deli-counters.

I read Mr T’s news with great interest, and look forward to seeing that smile, adorned in a green apron at our local. However, admittedly the economic power that is, this relationship raises some concerns too.

Respectfully paying homage to a much favoured blog; ‘Letters to Monty (the ramblings of a deluded man)’, I decided to pen a letter to Mr T, regarding this, his most recent of commercial accolades.

Dearest Alan,

Many congratulations on your Waitrose deal, @MrsTitchmarsh must be delighted. That discount card is prized indeed and will hopefully make up for the ban on M&S, Sainsbugs and Tesco’s visits, for the duration of the contract. Glad too, to see that the press are behaving, desisting in any tacky, ‘on the rebound’ remarks, even if B&Q may still be a tad raw, from the very recent end, to your long happy relationship.

As a keen gardener, whom like most, finds it near impossible to refrain from preaching the joys of this delightful pastime, any developments of bringing the world’s best hobby to a larger audience can only be but applauded. Especially now, where horse DNA seems to have found its way into anything edible, is there an urgent need to revert to ones own garden, re-establish a relationship with our soil, grow one’s own and/or source from next door. Coming second only to Lady Gaga in celeb status, your new ambassadorship, will undoubtedly put the Waitrose campaign in good stead.

As you are much involved in this trade, you will undoubtedly be well aware that business has been challenging for our fragmented industry. The recession for one, the incessant rainfall, ever increasing competition from large multiples and steady entrance of new market players, now including your new playmate; Waitrose.

Stubborn growth of the garden market, despite the downturn, is undoubtedly too irresistible a lure for the clever people at Waitrose and fellow supermarkets. That, or possibly, one of your new chums must have overheard my conversation on press day at Chelsea, with a highly respected nurseryman. The good man informed me that, ‘Alan Titchmarsh need only look at our plants for the cash registers back at the office to start ringing’. Such telepathic commercial powers are without doubt, hard to come by. Not sure even super Monty has those….

Impressive as your partnership may be, herein lies my concern. Agreed, my apprehensions may possibly be a tad premature, as we have yet to learn the exact details of the new garden range, and subsequent distribution strategy. However, as our fragmented market is still dominated by small-mid sized, family firms, one can’t help but be concerned that those small, knowledgeable and hence invaluable nurseries, garden centres and providers of all things gardening, are now (even more) at risk. That is, direct competitive risk from the new Waitrose foray into the horticultural industry, but also long term, and potentially higher risk from the ‘me-too’ supermarket strategists, keen to follow suit.

Supermarkets are superbly intelligent commercial beasts, able to source products far and wide, at brutally competitive prices. Does your agreement with Waitrose take this into account? Will the product line, encompass our small market players, or simply marginalise them further? Waitrose are relatively better in supporting farmers, but what of product sourcing? Will it be local, national or will price reign, giving the advantage to our Tulip growing neighbours for the possible sourcing of potential plant ranges? And on an environmental note, where does Waitrose stand in terms of the use of peat and plight of our pollinators? I trust crucial issues such as these, have been discussed chez Waitrose HQ, hopefully over some delightful beverage, toast and potted shrimps.

The Waitrose press release mentioned your desire to help raise the profile of British agriculture and horticulture. As much I would like to see you smile approvingly at me, whilst I make my choices in the dairy section, I can’t help but wonder if you need a partner at all, to do so. In a recent televised interview, Delia Smith, the grand dame of all things cooking, explained that she had reached a stage in her life, both maturely and economically, where all she wanted to do is simply share her knowledge of cooking, teach the nation to cook and wean us off the ready meals. Hopefully she’ll include the odd recipe for lasagna, as that does seem to be a popular (ready meal) choice. I digress my apologies. To teach the nation, Delia is working on her soon to be launched online cookery school; a beautifully designed, efficient platform that will be available to millions, at no charge at all. I leave that idea with you, to do with as you please…

When you are next in Oxfordshire, please do pop round for some tea. I promise to stock up on some of the Duchy’s finest biscuits, the full range of which I know, is available at Waitrose, of course.

Respectfully Yours,

The Oxonian Gardener (x)

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Comments: 18

  1. Good to see someone well known in horticultural circles being adopted in more mainstream ones. And if Mr T will use his influence to boost British horticulture that can only be good. However the threat to our horticultural industry doesn’t just come from Holland and Belgium but from Uganda where vast acres of glasshouses grow e.g. poinsettias for Xmas and red roses for Valentines Day.

  2. Interesting comments from the trade to latest post; Letter to Alan: Could you pass the potted shrimps? #thankyou

  3. Interesting your question about the peat, but I’m not very hopeful as there was such a big fuss some years ago when Which Magazine, I think it was, tested recommended potting compost and Mr T’s along with Jamie Oliver’s had by far the highest peat content, and Mr T vigorously defended it after the peat hit the fan. Interesting and entertaining as always reading your blog.

  4. RT @Petra_HM New post: Letter to Alan: Could you pass the potted shrimp? … #alantitchmarsh #waitrose a must read!

  5. @Petra_HM we think a few pairs of Joe’s would sit well amongst MrT’s offerings! Show some G-Love Mr T!!!

  6. Well said! I hope Alan can at least influence Waitrose to only buy British and thus support our own growers and the economy. Tesco’s have destroyed our bedding trade here with imported bedding and plants. In the summer this was a staple part of our income and it affected the plant chain right down to local wholesale growers as was evident in the local plant auction which was swamped out with plants. I accept that the weather had some part to play but a restricted market did not need supermarket barging. One more small gripe is excuse customers use is I was rescuing the plant, all they are doing is justifying the supermarket’s intrusion into a specialist market and helping them destroy the nurseries and people that dedicate their lives to this market. Rant over and once again well said.

    • Thank you for your comment, so good to hear direct from the trade. Continued growth in this market, increasing popularity of grow your own, more people turning to domestic past times and heightened environmental awareness, will probably encourage further growth, but also increased competition, especially supermarkets. Hopefully Alan’s stewardship of the Waitrose line, will embrace local/national growers, especially as to a paying customer, I am increasingly interested to know of the plant/product provenance. Hopefully, they seize that opportunity. The higher risk is in the me-too, supermarket followers, where profit margins rule. They are certain to follow – growers and nurseries beware!!

      • Thanks for the reply. The follow on from your comment growers and nurseries beware is actually consumers beware diversity of plants on offer will diminish if you lose nurseries and growers, for example how many places sell house plants now apart from the supermarkets? Just look in Plant finder a lot less nurseries selling houseplants and the orchid specialists are the ones now under threat. A large orchid for £7.99 in supermarket with loads of miles on it not good!

        • Very good point! There is no greater joy than buying plants/products from those in-the-know. It’d be terribly sad to loose that. Very grateful to the web, blogs etc,. that have helped bring us closer to growers/producers etc., can only encourage more to follow suit.

  7. Witty but also with a serious point, love Waitrose, gardening and Mr Alan ?

  8. I like Alan and his books got me started in gardening but I felt that he sold out when he went with B & Q who actively try to kill their plants in our local branch or else they come with a complimentary disease that spreads all over your garden.

  9. Letter to Alan: Could you pass the potted shrimps? by @Petra_HM

  10. A thought-provoking & challenging article, for both Alan Titchmarsh & supermarket chains. Excellent.

  11. That is a great read Petra. Will be interesting to see how things develop.

  12. All I can say is yes ! And thank you for the nod towards the blog, but this has more teeth. Personally I am tired of the dominance of supermarkets .

    • Big nod indeed. Love your blog. Very clever concept. Am sure HE reads it everyday….

  13. “@papaver: Excellent read @Petra_HM” Seconded! A Letter to Mr Titchmarsh on his commercial nuptials with Waitrose.

  14. Excellent read @Petra_HM

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