Anthony Hilton: Hands’ green fingers have fallen on stony ground

The magic touch which made Guy Hands successful seems to have deserted him

"Pity poor Guy Hands," is a phrase I never thought I would write but the magic touch which made him one of the most successful private-equity exponents in the country does seem to have deserted him.

His disastrous investment in EMI and its aftermath has been well documented. Similarly his decision to buy the agricultural land interests of the Packer family in Australia only to see the millions of acres afflicted by so many droughts or floods that he has barely got any production out of them. And now his most recent purchase, the Wyevale Garden Centres business in Britain, has been equally unfortunate.

A garden centres supplier said on Thursday this spring had been one of the worst on record for nurseries.

He said while the British think of ourselves as a nation of gardeners, the reality is many of us only have green fingers in good weather, and there has been very little of that throughout the planting season, the most important time of the year for garden centres. And if shoppers don't come in to buy the plants and composts, they aren't there to buy the new tools and latest gardening gadgets. business is well down and the centres are stuck with huge levels of stock, much of which is getting past its plant-by date. Wyevale has been an obvious casualty but it spreads much wider than standalone nurseries to include the DIY sheds and some supermarkets. blaming the weather for bad results is a favourite excuse of retailers. In this case it seems to be justified.

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