Are garden centres dull?

by Adam Pasco

[...] I often leave garden centres disappointed that so little was on offer to inspire me to part with my money.

Close-up of a visitor to a garden centre pushing a trolley loaded with plantsWhat do you look for in a good garden centre? I would imagine most people would expect garden centres to offer a great range of plants along with a heavy dose of inspiration and expert advice.

However, many garden centres have been transformed into out-of-town shopping destinations where you can find all manner of gifts, furniture, books and pet products, and probably tuck into lunch and a cream tea to help make a day of it.

However, it's the gardening that really matters to me, and I often leave garden centres disappointed that so little was on offer to inspire me to part with my money.

As we move through September into October I wouldn't be surprised if I'll soon have to pass through Santa's Grotto before discovering any plants or gardening products at many garden centres. Christmas takes centre stage as baubles and singing Santas replace spring-flowering bulbs, and once again I'll be left searching in vain for gardening inspiration.

Now, I'm not saying that all these fabulous marketing opportunities don't have a place in garden centres, and no doubt they are vital for commercial survival. But I do think it's a shame more emphasis isn't placed on gardening, to keep the keener gardeners among us active and engaged throughout the year, and to inspire a new generation of gardeners.

And when it comes to inspiration, I'm not convinced only offering plants in A-Z order really does it for many. I'd love to feel as inspired walking into a garden centre as I do when entering a beautiful garden, to be surrounded by creative ideas that I could replicate in my own garden. Of course customers then need to be able to locate the plants they want in an easy way, but let's introduce them to exciting new plants growing in colourful combinations first.

My comments at a recent conference, as reported in Horticulture Week, weren't exactly greeted with rapturous applause by some garden centre owners, who felt that I was speaking out of turn by suggesting there's more to displaying plants than simply placing them in A-Z beds.

Others have come down on my side, like the one garden centre owner, who is quoted as saying: "We agree with Adam Pasco - the majority of garden centres are uninspiring places to visit".

I hadn't realised my comments would stir-up a hornets' nest in the trade. I'm just keen to get more people growing more plants. That's the Holy Grail of anyone working in the gardening media. Those of us who have discovered the joy of gardening just want to share this with others, and by working together I'm convinced we can do this.

So, what do you think of garden centres, and where do you get your gardening inspiration from?

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Talkback: Are garden centres dull?
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Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2010 at 10:40

Generally speaking I agree with you completely and don't visit the commercial garden centres for more than a bag of dirt or something trivial like that. However, there are some exceptions. People with small private nurseries and centres where the love for plants oozes out. Visiting those are a pleasure (and sometimes expensive because I always end up buying something)Of course I can only speak for centres in the Netherlands.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2010 at 12:11

Living in the South East, we have a huge choice of Garden Centres and Nurseries, some are exceptional, some most decidedly are not. The best part about Garden Centres with A-Z staging, is that provided you know what you want, you can go straight to it and bypass the garden gnomes, jigsaw puzzles and Christmas decorations. We have some very good nurseries in the area, and sometimes they have unusual plants, and invariably a lot of Knowledge, which they are happy to pass on. Inspiration?, look at other peoples gardens, read as much as you can, and take a good look at what Mother Nature does in the wild.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2010 at 12:42

I agree with HeavyHorse, if you know what you are looking for the A-Z staging is very helpful. However I don't agree with you Adam, I find plenty of inspiration at my garden centre, but I do think it depends on the staff, the one I use is about a 40 minute drive, the plants are well cared for and the staff are very willing to help and it does not just have the A-Z. It is part of a large well known chain and there is one nearer to my house, but I have only visited it twice, the staff stood around in groups discussing their private lives and looked at me with disdain when I asked for their help and the plants looked neglected, so please don't judge all chain garden centres to be the same. I don't mind that my garden centre has been transformed into an "out-of-town shopping destination" because whilst buying plants I can also buy cheap books for my grandchildren, look at clothes in Cotton Traders and buy straw from the pet shop to place under my squashes, but being a female I just love to shop anyway!!

Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2010 at 13:22

I think you are right about certain garden centres and certainly as regards to Christmas which infuriates me as it seems to get earlier every year. I do enjoy going to nurseries, where, as you say, the owners have a real passion for their plants. Some garden centres, though, take a lot of trouble with displays and do look after their plants. A lot of people enjoy visiting somewhere they can buy all sorts of things under one roof and have something to eat as well. It is sometimes the only highlight of their week so we mustn't be too "sniffy" about them. A lot of people who are new to gardening start off visiting garden centres and if they find they have a real passion for gardening they will then progress to nurseries, plant fairs etc.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2010 at 13:48

I agree with Adam, and a couple of the posters above. A to Z is fine when you know what you want, but, I'd also like to browse and see ideas for planting, too. Do many garden centres / nurseries group their stock by soil / sun etc requirements? That would be super-useful, and stop me from getting tempted by unsuitable plants...probably bad for business however! I tend to get my inspiration from visiting gardens, and reading 'homes' magazines, as much as gardening magazines and websites.

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