Monday, 1 May 2017

The growth of garden centre culture

We visited a garden centre today, one we’ve visited occasionally for quite a few years. It is situated out in the Derbyshire countryside and once upon a time it was mostly a place to buy plants, shrubs and trees. Bit by bit the plants seem to have taken second place to the cafe, garden furniture, shabby chic decorations, farm shop and barbecue kit.

Today we discovered that the pace of change has accelerated. The garden centre has received a substantial makeover. Gone is the piece of apparently derelict land which once served as a car park. Now it has organised parking in rows so we couldn’t just leave the car anywhere and mooch off the entrance. 

Not only that but the entrance has moved too. The new one has automatic doors and once inside a brand new layout guides folk through all the indoor goodies before they have a chance of finding the outdoor area. The cafe is much bigger, that was immediately obvious, but it wasn’t at all obvious where the plants might be.

Fortunately we have a general idea of the layout so we were able to use our sense of direction and wend our way from the pervasive aroma of coffee to the outside world where things turned out to be much the same as always. Apart from the car park, no money had been spent outside as far as one could tell. In other words the place has become a copy of all the big garden centres hereabouts, if still a little smaller.

Had I been asked, which was vanishingly unlikely, I would have supposed that copying the big boys in the garden centre business would destroy any advantage to having one in the Derbyshire countryside set in picturesque surroundings. Apparently this isn’t the case as the car park was absolutely packed. People were even waiting for vacated spaces when we left. Never seen that before.

It was a bank holiday of course, but dull, overcast and chilly after early rain. Even taking the bank holiday into account, the makeover seems to have worked a treat, so this is what people must want from a garden centre. Coffee, cake, a bit of shopping and maybe a plant in a pot if there’s still time.


Demetrius said...

Alas, the days of Bill and Ben The Flowerpot Men are long gone.

Where is Little Weedy now?

Sam Vega said...

Garden centres seem to have become very much more culturally important than they used to be. Almost part of what it means to be middle class, English, and over 40. They share this honour with the National Trust, the RSPB, and Radio 4. All of them increasingly depressing institutions, incidentally.

If I were cynical about it, I would say that owning a garden centre allows one to run a supermarket without having to get planning permission. Just add on another shed, then some of that "temporary" covering and some heaters, then upgrade the car park, then demolish the old greenhouses and replace them with a big industrial unit, etc, etc.

It won't be long before we can buy baked beans and toothpaste in them. So much nicer than that big Sainsburys on the roundabout, and coffee tastes nicer when you can see plants and rustic bird-boxes, doesn't it?

Michael said...

Mrs O'Blene and I were thinking of going to one of our garden centres today, but will be going tomorrow, when the hordes are safely back at work...

We've promised ourselves a proper bird table, as I've bought a few 'toys' recently, and Mrs O'Blene deserves an item like this, as she doesn't strim or mow these days. Also, we're getting another 'blowaway' greenhouse, for hardening off all the tender chaps which need TLC before they get planted out. When they're ready the whole shebang gets folded up and shoved in the coal shed until next year!

You're absolutely right on the 'new' style of garden centres. We have a lovely local one, which is quite small, but we just visit them for a chat sometimes, and buy a packet of seeds or whatever, but tomorrow, we're going further, probably with a flask and perhaps a Hob Nob and a red warning triangle, because both daughts have given us the low-down on a great place to visit!

Having just been soaked by a sudden shower an hour ago, I wonder why I do it, but the redcurrants look great, and so does the tayberry, which viciously attacks me at forty paces!

(The new 'toy' is a Tanaka 2 stroke strimmer, and I bought it from a retired gardener chum for £30.00, and it's so powerful, I have to chase it round the allotment to tame it...)!

Michael said...

Sam, we crossed posts here, and you're absolutely right!

There's one near here, where there's only one way round the place, and you have to pass all the dross before arriving at the place you want...

I gave up coffee after visiting a Notcutts (Yeah, you lot), as it was so foul, I felt sick for ages afterwards - still do!

The supermarket 'feel' is prevalent in most of the new garden centres, and when I find myself buying a car from one I'll stop going there - mind you, we bought a conservatory and replaced all our windows at 'The Turrets' from a simple discussion with a chap at another independent garden centre. It was a fabulous deal, and the great chap who was running the buildings section even rang me up and said that there was a 10% off deal going if we wanted to place our order! We'd already agreed we'd do the deal ferchrissakes!

'Kerching' - one unexpected grand in Scrobs' pocket...

wiggiatlarge said...

Ah the garden center, the current go to place for elevenses, our local independent one has grown to the size of a mini village with separate butchers, deli, florist the inevitable car wash animal feed center and other outlets.
At any time of the day the cafe is stacked with more people than the actual garden areas, this was as they go quite a decent place but as the "other" areas have taken prominence over actual plants the dross has started to manifest itself with cheap containers from Taiwan plus tacky garden ornaments, a large greetings card section ?,all managed by a new advice ! desk at the entrance.
My wife defends the place as it has the best Christmas decoration section in the county, so I am trumped.

Anonymous said...

ROI, EBITA, business rates, pushy banks, owners kids need to buy a house. All push up the required take so sleepy old garden centre becomes amusement arcade and shopping mall.

I go very very rarely. Get my bedding plants at the market or boot sale and anything special on fleabay of from an old RHS guide.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I thought Bill and Ben were rather strange. I wonder if they put anyone off gardening for life?

Sam - it certainly seems to be going that way. Comfort shopping where everything is familiar and fashion doesn't come into it.

Scrobs - the small ones I've seen seem to grow and grow as they copy the big ones, especially if they decide to add a cafe.

Wiggia - blimey I have yet to see one with a car wash.

Roger - we don't have thriving markets where we could buy a reasonable range of plants, although we have just been told of a small local garden centre where the owner actually grows many of the plants. We'll be giving that a try.