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I used to live in the SE and moved to SW and in both areas there are excellent garden centres who do a wide range of plants, children's play area and other decorative items. They also do great food. This is becoming a snob issue - do the people who object to Christmas decorations etc. realise that these centres are run to make money, not just to provide plants? What happens when the winter intervenes and there are next to no plants to see? Are they supposed to shrug their shoulders and close down for the winter? Now there would be something to moan about! I, in common with many others, like to arrive at a "destination" and be entertained by the displays of whatever, provided that there are plants, well set out to buy as well. I suppose the people who are two single minded to enjoy these outlets are the same people who never admitted to owning a television? There is plenty of room in gardening for the specialists (who,incidentally, sell many of the plants on the shelves in these garden centres) I have used most available plant buying opportunities and find there are good and bad in all of them. So please stop the bleating and get on with your gardening. A last thought. Why does the editor of a top selling gardening magazine need inspiration from a garden centre? Surely he should be the one doing the inspiring!
I agree with so much of what has been said about garden centres which have almost lost sight of what they are there for and have become submerged in vastly over-priced ornaments, furniture, clothing and rather awful knick-knacks. Anyone who has a proper nursery nearby should be grateful. I find the bought-in plants in garden centres are often of poor quality and often no better than can be bought in a supermarket or DIY store. As someone who no longer has a car, I do wish I could find a garden centre which would be willing to deliver all those items I cannot carry home on the bus such as larger plants, compost, bark chippings, tools etc. etc! I feel they are missing out on what must be quite a large market.
Reply to Gardening Genes: Inspiration drives my passion for gardening, as much as it does with others, I'm sure. I find inspiration in my own garden and in others I visit, at flower shows, by watching TV programmes (Geoffrey Smith and Geoff Hamilton were my original inspirations to garden), and yes, hopefully by visiting nurseries and garden centres offering plants I've never grown before. From the feedback I receive I know that Gardeners' World Magazine plays its part, too, with ideas, advice and inspiration every month!
Growing most things for your garden is more satisfying than buying everything from garden centres, local nurseries are better because they sell plants and don't clutter the place with things you don't want, and what is more annoying than mail order companies that promise that you have been entered into a draw just to get you to order something, you never win just a sprat to catch a mackeral.


i felt quite down after visiting my local bnq and wilkos not much of interest at all,was quite disappointed there was hardly anythin worth bothering with:(
I work in one of these big chains and some of us have a bit of knowledge, some don't, I think it's the nature of the job nowadays. I love my plants, and often take my own horticulture books into work, so I have extra info if I need it. We're a bit constrained by 'National' company policy as to what we can and can't sell, and I would love to have plants that are more suited to our geographical area. Our bedding is always UK grown. Our Co. has also started up a City and Guilds course for the separate job skills within the store, so we ARE trying to improve. Sad to say, there are always going to be people who think of it only as a job. I admit to getting a bit frustrated when I'm wet to my underwear, and told that I 'let' my plants die, or 'why isn't the plant that I want here', the prices have gone up, and where are the men on the dept to give advice on plants?. In our store, it's the women who have the expertise and knowledge and the passion for our plants that can be frustrated by time, bosses, and sometimes unthinking customers who can be very hurtful with their comments when we are short staffed. There are good and bad in most environments, but I think with gardening, look for the ones who're out in all weathers, and (dare I say it), the ones who, if they haven't got a particular plant but know where you can get it,will tell you.
I am in total agreement that the majority of garden centres are full of stock that is uninspired and are too interested in all the peripherals and not the plants. However, its a good reason to seek out your local, independent nurseries and support them. They will know what they are talking about plant wise and be able to offer advice on what to plant and where and when to plant it and will have a far more interesting range to choose from. In the meantime all the mainstream garden centres are only interested in what sells and fast and are just turning into horticultural supermarkets, selling the same stuff with no variety or pride in what it is or where it comes from. Sad but true I'm afraid so please support the smaller guy, in the same way as you might support your local deli or indepenant shop.
I hardly ever find anything to buy in the big Garden Centres. They are expensive, although, generally of a good quality. I like to shop around for bargains (plants that have been reduced in price to make way for Christmas Decorations). Specialist nurseries are the place to go. Garden centres are OK for so called 'instant' gardeners. People who haven't got much time but want a nice show.
I believe variety is the spice of life when it comes to plant buying. As well as growing two thousand plants from seed this spring, I also sold my surplus to pay for the compost and seeds. I visit a garden centres twice a month to get anything from their reduced trolley, and pick up the free plastic plant pot holders they give away. I am with eight online gardening seed, bulb, and plant catalogues, and also visit local markets and garden fairs. I am with a seed swapping group online and a plant swapping club in my local area.
I don't agree that the big garden centres are expensive for example I was looking for Nemesia Amelie (grandaughter's name)and found a nursery online selling them for £4.95, however they wanted to charge me £12.50 for p&p!! Then I happened to be browsing around my local garden centre and there they were for £4.50 and no p&p to pay. I have always been disappointed by any plants that I have purchased by mail, I suppose it's a bit like food shopping when I visit the store I pick the best there is with the longest sell by date, but when I order online I get what I'm given!!
I would agree with Dahlia Lover that Garden Centres are not always expensive, and there are excellent and knowledgeable staff in some, but Adams original question, was, are they dull, and sadly some are. Clearly, with over 30 posts in this thread, as a journalist Adam has done his job and got everyone, including the owners and managers of Garden Centres, talking and thinking about improvement. It can only do good! The next question is, where am I going to put all the plants I've grown, bought on line, from nurseries, and yes, from Garden Centres. We do enjoy a great choice, but theirs no harm in shaking the odd seed packet to see if things can improve. Job done, Adam, keep up the good work.
whats happened to the compost we buy in expensive bags, only to find it,s now rubbish?
I work in a homebase garden centre in yorkshire and its a shame there is little inspiration for saying they enter a garden in the rhs shows we could do with like you say recreating a border with all plants etc being there to take away if you wish. i will keep this in mind for when i open my own garden nursery.
I agree with soil appreciation. What has happened to compost these days. you used to be able to buy really good quality fine grade multipurpose compost, that had no lumps or bit of "plastic" in it. Now even the most expensive compost is NOT rotted down enough. I end up sieving it before I can use it for sowing seeds. Also, why does compost have to be so compacted now. It is like trying to tear a bale of hay apart. I guess it is so they can store it in a smaller area. Not much compensation when you have got bad arthritis though.


I do not agree that garden centres are boring. There are some that give them a bad name but there are those that will go all out to help their customers. I happen to work for one that has this in mind. I think A-Z is a good idea as it aids customers as well as staff and enables you to offer a bigger range of plants. but I think you do need to combine this with some form of inspiration. All I can say is if your not happy with your centre let them know or find another because if they can't take you complaints seriously then they are not wrth your money.
Most large garden centre chains are driven by entirely commercial motives and have diversified into providing what may be perceived as a "customer experience" that extends beyond the provision of quality plants and advice that Adam Pasco seeks. I sometimes share his disappointment and leave without making a purchase or without being excited by the plants on view. I have a further concern regarding the well known DIY stores with their garden sections which are often poorly maintained leading to sorry displays of plants. If they cannot do it well they should leave it to the experts who will care for their plants.
My favourite garden centre is the one at Wisley. I often spend more time in there than visiting the gardens. Everything labelled, advice if you want it, and inspiration in the displays.
The problem I have always had with garden centres is that they never sell a good range, if any, of hydroponics equipment. It's always what's currently trendy or of course, most profitable, regardless of use. George Pattenson
I may have opportunity to input/take an active role in building up a local nursery - which after several years has sadly never quite got off the ground. So the debate & thought provoking line of comment is very timely, thank you. Additional KEY pointers for attracting new business and local interest is most welcome. Perhaps with a clean canvas & fresh sustainable ideas, 'we' can combine creative inspirational alternatives to practically bridge perceived market gaps. TPH