Garden centres revisited

by Adam Pasco

My recent comments on this blog certainly generated some interesting responses, and it appears many of you think garden centres could do more to inspire their customers.

Close-up up of a gardener shopping for spring bulbs at a garden centreHow inspired were you on your last visit to a garden centre? Did you leave with a trolley full of plants or empty-handed?

My recent comments on this blog certainly generated some interesting responses (thank you - we love hearing your thoughts), and it appears many of you think garden centres could do more to inspire their customers.

After all, isn't it the shared passion of garden centre staff that makes your visit more rewarding? Shouldn't their enthusiasm and knowledge be something every customer values, building loyalty that ensures repeat visits, and repeat business?

Speaking on a panel at a trade conference at the Garden and Leisure Exhibition called Glee last Monday to debate these issues, I was struck by just how many people who either run garden centres or work in them actually agree that more could be done to boost inspiration.

Plant quality is paramount, good advice essential, and better displays and interaction can entice gardeners to buy more.

Traditional A-Z benches lined with plants in alphabetical order were defended by some and attacked by others. They help customers  (and staff) locate plants if they know what they're looking for, but you could hardly call these benches inspirational. To new gardeners they can even appear intimidating with their endless rows of Latin names.

Seasonal displays are needed too. Creative planting ideas and combinations help demonstrate which plants work well together, and would probably tempt people to buy more plants at the same time. Highlighting plants suitable for different sites, soils and situations also helps make them more accessible.

Yes, there are good garden centres out there doing just this, and the very best ones in the country are always worth visiting if you're in the area. In particular, check out the winners of the Garden Centre of the Year 2010 run by the Garden Centre Association (GCA).

A different take on assessing garden centres is to look at their turnover, and Garden Retail magazine has done just that and published the Top 100 Garden Centres in the UK by turnover.

But some garden centres do expect the BBC to be providing the public with inspiration for them. One even asked me why the BBC wasn't doing more! Well, in addition to the inspiring content in Gardeners' World magazine and on this web site, I'd say that the BBC is the only broadcaster doing anything to promote gardening across TV, radio, web, print and more. How about ITV, Channel 4 and the rest putting gardening on their agenda?

Without doubt, television is the most influential medium around. The garden industry was all a buzz back in the late 90s when millions tuned in to Ground Force. Garden centre tills rang out at almost deafening levels as 'the Dimmock Effect' encouraged many people to build water features and makeover their gardens. Tommy Walsh demonstrated just how quick and easy it was to build decking, while timber everywhere was treated to a coating of Barleywood Blue paint thanks to Alan Titchmarsh's persuasive brushstrokes. Ground Force certainly influenced millions in a way no gardening programme had done before or has done since.

Perhaps it's time for the garden industry to pool their creative juices and bring their combined passion to life in new garden centre promotions. They have a tremendous opportunity to engage with their local community, enhancing and personalising the gardening experience - something that internet shopping sites can never do.

I wonder what else gardeners would like to see their local garden centre do to inspire them? Do let me know.

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Talkback: Garden centres revisited
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Gardeners' World Web User 24/09/2010 at 14:45

i have just visited a gc, and was greated with a good morning, followed by a member of staff coming up to me as i looked at their display of cyclamen, advising me to keep away from heat and water from the bottom, [the cyclamen that is!] subsequently I bought 3 for my kitchen window, thats what i call service. One of my pet hates is the labelling of plants, i want info as to sun or shade, dry or moist, size, type of soil and whether its hardy or not, sadly a lot of gcs buy plants from abroad with those universal labels which have very little info on them.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/09/2010 at 16:12

I was at a GC yesterday and bought six plants that were in the sale - £1 for 6 - They were salvias that had nearly finished but with a bit of TLC they will be fine next year. Now that I have put them in the ground they have come to life - even for a short time. Look for the bargains in the sales. They are well worth it - just have patience.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/09/2010 at 09:19

Thanks jc, and I agree that those generic plant labels with symbols and little descriptive or cultural information are of little or no value at all. If they're going to bother producing a label then why not make it a useful one.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/09/2010 at 21:49

Disapointed today as I decided to replace plants which had either died or not performed well. Realised GC close down for the winter as far as perenials are concerned. This is the time of year when you know where the gaps are and gives the plants time to get settled in before winter or am I wrong, should I just pick out my Christmas tree instead lots of choice there

Gardeners' World Web User 11/10/2010 at 12:56

I am in the process of revamping our tired garden and have had beds laid out and paved areas and paths built. Now the fun of planting! Have tried to support our local garden centres both of which used to be good for buying plants now only seem to carry seasonal bedding/container pots and a few token shrubs and roses. Plenty of pink wellies and candles and crafty novelties to hang I know not where, but a good selection of plants - not on your life!

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