Gardening: Pick of the Bunch ; Ursula Buchan Usually Avoids Garden Centres. Now, She Says, Things Are Looking Up. Photographs by Ed Maynard
Buchan, Ursula, The Independent (London, England)
IT IS COMMONPLACE to hear gardeners complain about garden centres: their prices, the lack of information and advice available from laconic, untrained staff, the cynical way that customers are directed round in order to be exposed to all the shopping opportunities, the degree to which plants seem to have been sidelined in favour of "leisure", the preponderance of tacky Christmas goods for three months of the year. These criticisms are often justified but, so fragmented is garden centre ownership, with few large garden centre chains but many one-site operations, that it is dangerous to generalise. In fact, there are some very good ones around the country, both independent and in chains; they are just not always easy to seek out.
Most garden centres, some 2,000 in all, belong to the Horticultural Trades Association, but about 150 also belong to the Garden Centre Association, which lays claim to represent "the UK's most progressive independent centres". The GCA started out life as the Garden Centre Group within the HTA but, since 1979, has been on its own (although members of the GCA must be HTA members as well). To become a member, a garden centre has to undergo a rigorous inspection, as well as submit to annual independent audits, the criteria for which extend to 33 pages, I am told. The member is required to employ adequately trained staff, including "qualified horticulturists", who are not exactly two-a-penny.
Following the recent round of audits, the GCA has awarded 15 centres in the UK the accolade of "Garden Centre of Excellence". One of these is Woodlands at Stapleton between Hinckley and Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, an independent concern founded 24 years ago. I made a visit recently to see what makes a really good garden centre.
I cannot deny that I was impressed. To begin with, it is larger and far more spacious than the average, extending to 90,000sq ft, of which 65,000 are under the cover of a vast and airy ridged-roof greenhouse. Size here means room to move easily, but also adequate capitalisation, which some garden centres demonstrably lack; there is a lot of choice. Mercifully, although the Christmas decorations were out in force, that department was situated so that it was possible to bypass it, which I happily did on the way to the clean, comfortable restaurant. Close by was the best selection of children's gardening equipment I have ever seen, so good I felt a sudden pang that my own children are now too tall and strapping to benefit.
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Publication information: Article title: Gardening: Pick of the Bunch ; Ursula Buchan Usually Avoids Garden Centres. Now, She Says, Things Are Looking Up. Photographs by Ed Maynard. Contributors: Buchan, Ursula - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 2, 2002. Page number: 52,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.