Do garden centres send you into a frenzy of plant buying or do you go there to have your dinner?
To most people in the the twenty first century nurseries are where hard working parents drop off their children. Once upon a time nurseries grew plants in greenhouses and customers went to buy shrubs in the autumn, root stock wrapped in hessian, and bedding plants in the spring and summer. There was little chance of a cup of tea as you wandered along the rows of roses. The advent of container plants heralded change.
In a previous town our local garden centre had a cafe; a few plastic garden tables in the corner and a kitchen run at weekends by two sixth formers from our son’s class; they cooked excellent breakfasts.
When we moved to our current address the local garden centre was in a different league entirely. It had a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, teas and every Thursday evening two dinners for the price of one. As our new house was without a cooker or table we soon joined the many locals queuing up at five thirty for the legendary steak pie made from their own cattle.
Since then the restaurant and seating area has grown even bigger; if there was a humanitarian disaster nearby this would be the place to send refugees for operational feeding. They could also camp there, making use of the vast range of garden recliners and hammocks.
Our garden centre sells more than plants and garden gnomes. As well as every gadget ever invented for your garden, water features and an upmarket gift section, you can also buy life size models of every creature from squirrels to gorillas, or perhaps a stone deer. I have yet to see anyone struggling to the till with a resin Great Dane, but presumably someone must buy these very expensive objects.
If all this shopping is too much you can stay in the restaurant and relax. Thursday evenings also brings local entertainment, usually a guitar or keyboard with the sort of music that makes me lose the will to live, but perhaps others enjoy it.
More a way of life than a shop? There are coach trips out to national gardens and coach parties calling. As well as the excitement of Halloween and Christmas displays with live reindeer, summer brings a real treat. This is how it goes. Arrive at dawn on Friday at the end of June, queue up ready for the doors to open at 8am. Then obediently follow the path to the desk where you can buy your special tickets for the New Forest Show, first come first served. The precious ticket allows you entry to the garden centre’s hospitality tent in the members’ arena. Free light refreshments all day, members’ toilets and a great view of the main rings with show jumping and carriage horses.
And what about the plants? I always head to the reduced shelves, that keeps Cyberspouse happy, find bargain plants and rescue them, but I also spend ages choosing more trays from the vast spread of colour and variety.
This week real flower lovers will not be eating steak pie, they will be at the Chelsea Flower Show. I would love to go, but I would hate the crowds and the truth is, only television presenters and the Royal Family are allowed to wander in the wonderful gardens. We can watch every evening on television, but miss the scent of the blooms, so back to the garden centre. Every keen gardener will be feeling creative and dream of their own garden winning a gold medal.
In my short story ‘Recycling’, Amanda DuPres’ love of plants leads to Pierrefonds Close being in lock down. Read it in