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