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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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.


Living in little Jersey we have two garden centres, one locally owned and one part of a chain. Both fall into Adam’s depiction however there are individual staff in each that are real stars and customer service is generally ok? I am relatively new to gardening, like the majority of working class people in the island I have lived in an ‘apartment’ until very recently and for the first time we have a garden! I would love more inspiration and demonstrations. I want to see how to put together a border what goes together from the plants they are selling. I get frustrated when I see articles/photographs and can’t replicate them because certain plants and materials aren’t available. I know there are problems with supply living on an island but I would love to see stunning borders and different styles of garden created at the garden centre with everything available to recreate at home!
I love mail order shopping and find plenty of inspiration by visiting websites of famous gardens. Once you have the gardening bug you find you can get most things, even if only the seeds to grow your own plants. Shopping for plants that take your eye when you visit an open garden is usually possible as well. But I do have an obliging small local garden centre that delivers my heavy supplies of compost etc.
I moved to a new area last November and am still trying to find a decent garden centre. We have no chains here and so far all the ones I've visited have been awful. Poor plants, old stock, no staff and I can never actually get what I want. There was a fantastic independant, large garden centre where I used to live and now I think I was spoilt! I have just been told of a large centre, part of a chain about half an hour away so am off to investigate that soon. Fingers crossed.
happymarion, I too have resorted to mail order - just potting up 84 lavender plugs and enjoying my 'clangers mix' dahlia grown from seed!
I go shopping to garden centres with my husband and 6 year old daughter - while I'm browsing the plants (which I do like being able to find in the A-Z cos my knowledge and experience is limited) my husband keeps the Bairn entertained by looking at the books, garden ornaments and pets, etc. If I were to drag them to a nursery they'd be the ones bored and that in turn would make me feel guilty and rushed into either buying something quick or leave! We go most regularly to a once independent large garden centre with an excellent local reputation, now bought over by a large chain, but that is in no way negative. In fact, visited on Saturday with my parents, who had a lovely day. The centre is wheelchair friendly and has a lovely restaurant ... it was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours! I have to completely agree however with the Christmas decorations going on sale already, but that's just me - I reckon 1 December is time enough for that sort of nonsense in all shops ... the quicker it's over and done with the better - don't prolong the agony!
I agree partly on your comment. I think a good mix with partly Catogory Management and partly inspiring you should do it in Garden Centres. We from FloraHolland (the flower auction in the Netherlands) are looking for critic people to think with us about the right way to sell flowers and plants. That's better for you ( you don't feel disappointed) and better for our growers (better benefits).
There are 3 garden centers in my area and two I stay well clear of. I can describe them as the most uninspring, boring, drab and heart sinking places to go to buy...well...anything! However there is one that stands out and is welcoming the moment you drive up the driveway. Beautifully planted out and well maintained, it has been drawing me in for years and is much a pleasurable day out as it is a place to shop. If only all garden centers looked like this one..
I agree that many garden centres offer a far wider range of rather low quality and bizarre gift items than plants, and have found that the independent nurseries and garden centres are better stocked with interesting and unusual plants. the only way to find out is to visit them all, for example, there is a garden centre near me that was very uninspiring and part of a chain which has been bought by a family and is now overflowing with wonderful plants,plus it has a great cafe and some tasteful gifts too.
see what you r eally need s some kind of gardening IKEA where you see lots of little gardens all laid out showing you ways in which things that are on sale in the gardenc entre could be used. Permenant show gardens done so well by all our lovely flower shows and then an A-Z bit t then edn where you kust pick up the bits you need. Obviously a bit more difficult with living plants thant furniture and don't know if it would be cost effective but it would make garden centre shopping more interesting
I enthustiastically dug out a lovely pond a few months ago, but have yet to put any plants in it. Is it a good idea to plant at the moment (early September) or wait until next spring?


The debate on this hasn't let up at Horticulture Week forum. Opinion so far is pretty split...
As I live in london i go to harlow garden centre which is really nice and its only a 30 mionute drive the staff are always really helpful.they also have a tea and cake shop and offer there own jams and chutneys to buy.
Totally agree with your comments. Will not venture into LARGE centres until spring, do not want Christmas ramming down my throat thank you very much, it's a sign of the times everything geared around making as much money as possible however. Always try to visit my small local centres to encourage proper use of GARDEN CENTRES and the sale of PLANTS. M.T.HULME.
Thanks Hulmemt, and thanks to everyone for your comments and feedback about garden centres. Please keep your comments coming as it is very useful hearing from all of you.
Garden Centres, Nurseries and Small Specialist Growers All have their own appeal. Sadly however a Number of 'Owner managed' garden centres in my area have passed into the hands of the chains, [Wyevale bought Blooms [Bressingham]& Auldene [here in the Northwest.] Fans of Garden Centres travelling around the country now find that these 'Chains' can all be the same. Once visiting a garden centre was [Like visiting a garden, a 'Unique' experience, now it is the same as the Garden Centre down the road!!] It is NOT that Dobbies or Wyevale are 'Bad' just homogenised & Instituitionalised.