And the Point Is?

Not far from me there used to be a Wyevale Garden Centre. Their lease ran out. Bye Wyevale.

If you want to find a decent source of plants, click the image.

Others moved in. To begin with the “new” place was as close to gardening heaven as a garden centre can get. Of course, the better part of my cerebral vortex has to interject that the best garden centre will never beat the best independent nursery if it’s plants you’re after. But if you want stuff other than plants the garden centre should be the first port of call for tools, flower pots and garden twine – all those little things that we gardeners consume – and the place was stocked to the ceiling with everything I could want and more besides.

But it was not to last. Commercialism took over!

Recently, as the weather decided to be wet again, I decided that I’d do a bit more sowing, notably another batch of sweet peas. Now my set of root trainers expired a couple of years ago. Well they were about 15 years old and don’t last forever. I’ve made more use of loo roll cores since then but recently found that my current source of soft stuff to pander to the nether regions had cores that simply didn’t stand up to the rigours of sweet pea sowing and are now more rubber band than loo roll core! To preserve contentment in the throne room, I wanted some new, old-fashioned root trainers.

So I ventured forth to my local garden centre, now called “garden village” because it’s “much more than just a garden centre”.

I could have had my fill of clothes, shoes, interior decor, faux flowers (silk OK-ish but PLASTIC!!!!!!), fitted kitchens, new PVCu windows and doors, tropical fish (but not a pond plant in sight). I could even get a haircut or beauty treatment if I was so inclined and buy a case of wine or two. I could buy rabbits and birds, pet food and get my dog groomed (if I had one). I could get a new fireplace, fitted bathroom, central heating; a new conservatory if I wanted one.

These are flower pots. You grow plants in them. And these strong ones last for years … and years … and years!

But I couldn’t buy a pack of 3″ flower pots, let alone root trainers! There were loads of sets of shuttle tray and pots but these are more expensive and the pots tend to be weaker so don’t last as long. I’m using pots that are older than I am, having inherited them from my mother. And I have plenty of shuttle trays, bought separately from a commercial supplier and much stronger (I’ve had them for 10 years or more) than the ones on sale that might have made it through one growing season.

Squashed in corners around the brightly lit and spacious concessions were the cramped, dark, unwelcoming gardening bits. Lots of garden tat – cheap (-looking, not price-wise) ornaments and the like – were spaced out a bit better but I was there as a gardener and began to wonder why.

Round here, even the “sheds” like Homebase and B&Q provide some shelter for the bags of compost that aren’t stored indoors. At the “garden centre”, it’s all out in the open and wet, as far away from the exit as humanly possible. And, to make things worse, the (getting smaller) car park right outside is usually full of cars that carried people looking for shoes and clothes or after a coffee in the restaurant. Try pushing a trolley loaded with bags of compost all the way around a display area, around the outside and up a hill to the “overflow” car park with the added weight of wet in those bags. A DIY place over the road stores compost indoors and I can always park right outside; no lugging involved and I’m always offered help lifting it into the car.  Now I just need to persuade them to stock Sylvagrow peat-free rather than the cheaper but inferior stuff. I’m working on that.

These shuttle trays cost money. I don’t want the shuttle trays. And the pots are squashy ones. Two or three years’ life if you’re careful.

My next port of call was that DIY centre. An Aladdin’s cave. The sort of place that, whatever you want, they’ll find it somewhere or burst into tears at their abject failure. I wanted a pack of screws. I came out with a pack of screws, a pack of root trainers and a grow bag tray (garden centre £9.99, DIY place £4.99 and no need to lift half-a-ton of weedkiller off it first)! I chatted to one of the chaps who works there. He said they keep compost indoors as “no-one wants heavy wet crap with all the good bits washed out”. His job is usually sawing wood to size; he knows all about wood. He also knows a lot about gardening.

And they sell flower pots.

In a range of sizes.

And proper garden ornaments. Stone not plastic. And reasonably priced. I’ve bought a few in the past

And, if I wanted, a massive range of garden pond stuff. All the hose fittings I could dream of (long-lasting metal ones as well as the cheaper plastic ones). There’s a range of netting, landscape fabric and the like, cut off the roll to measure rather than in those fiddly, expensive little packs. Hanging basket and hayrack liners (biodegradeable) for more sizes of container than I knew existed; garden tools that feel like they’ll outlive me; a range of wheelbarrows; decorative gravel and chippings; wild bird food that doesn’t cost more than a meal for two at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The list goes on.

They don’t sell plants but then I don’t buy plants from garden centres where the range is usually what’s in flower (or worse, forced into flower early). I buy plants before they’re in flower so I can enjoy their full season rather than start dead-heading before they’re in the ground. That’s what nurseries are for. They’ll sell pots, early in the season, with plants just poking their heads out of the soil. And a couple of weeks later they’re a foot tall!

If I want clothes I’ll go to a clothes shop. If I want shoes, to a shoe shop. And if I want gardening stuff, it seems, to a DIY centre.

So for me, and I know I’m not alone, the point of the local garden centre isn’t!

Note: The photo at the top of this post is not of a garden centre but, rather, a display at an RHS show. I thought you might like to see some nice plants.

12 thoughts on “And the Point Is?

  1. Hi there. It drives me potty that so called garden centres are more like furniture show rooms! The last one I went to had Christmas decorations of every colour under the sun and cheeses from local farms. If I win the lottery I’ve already decided I’ll be setting up a decent garden centre for actual gardeners!!

    1. Shhhh! My favourite local DIY centre has reorganised to make a little aisle of Christmas lights which it’s selling as garden decorations for parties and barbecues. It’s only temporary – they had a run on aquatic compost and pond planting baskets and didn’t want an empty area while they restocked.

  2. Why on earth, after such a long and passionate rant against this place, do you not name them?

    1. It’s not at all passionate; merely factual. And I’ve not named the place (though you should be able to work it out) because it’s an example of so many places, as other comments indicate. The garden centre tradition seems to be in a downward spiral of its own making, which is a shame.

  3. Your post describes my experience too. My local garden centre started life years ago as a nursery in a rather tatty Nissen hut, but has expanded out of all recognition, and has now been taken over by Blue Diamond and gone even further downhill. Its wares are exactly as you describe – though they do have an arrangement whereby you can buy your compost via a ticket system and then drive round to collect it after paying.

    1. Such luxury! Here they took out about 15 car parking spaces so that they could fence off the car park to accommodate the compost (which is why it’s so far from the entrance). They needed to move the compost to make way for the shoe shop.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! Watching my local garden centre turn into tat central over the past 25 years has been heart breaking.

  5. I worked in a veg shop just outside a garden centre entrance door for a short while. It soon became apparent that the garden centre isn’t about selling garden “things” but a place for bus loads of people to go to for a day out. Literally busses turned up. The manager told me that the centre had plants and things purely to look good and they expected to sell the other stuff to make money. Their restaurant was the attraction as was the fact it was all under cover and so guaranteed good weather. They had become a “destination” for window shoppers to be in a pleasant environment and have a snack and a cuppa. They were capturing the grey pound.

    Nothing wrong with it, it’s clearly a good business, apart from the use of the term “garden centre”

    Some companies spend a lot of money on location, building and expensive decor, modern garden centres save all that money and hide cheap buildings, poor carpet etc and fill it with a colourful maze with “gifts” to remember your day out.

    1. Well the local place hasn’t gone that far yet. They’ve just filled it with clothes, shoes, bathrooms, fitted kitchens …….. Unless you count a bunch of plastic flowers as a potential gift!

  6. People today want an instant garden and lifestyle. They don’t know ( and it isn’t taught) how to grow a garden. We are lucky with both a small family run nursery and garden centre, where plants are still important, near by.

    1. I walk around this area and notice how many front gardens (which had driveways originally) have now been concreted over. I know one house where the owner doesn’t own a car but “extended” the drive by concreting over his front lawn so that he didn’t have to cut it.

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