Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Gardening Classes

When I was a child, garden centres were places where grown ups went which sold plants and perhaps a few seed packets and gardening tools. It was my great delight to be left in the car to read a book while they went in to spend hours poring over boring old plants which grew naturally in the garden anyway didn't they? Why would anyone buy them? A hellishly hot summer slaving in one as a teenager, scarcely able to breathe in the hot greenhouses, let alone work, a tyrannical dragon of a female boss constantly on my back yelling at me by way of training didn't alter my prejudices.
Below is my local garden centre.
Even vaster than it looks with an ample deli and an award-winning organic cafe as well, much of the merchandise is pricier than (and not dissimilar to) Harrods. It has now even diversified into antiques where you can buy barnacle-encrusted pots rescued from 19th century ship wrecks amidst the usual mahogany drop-leaf tables and oil paintings! Gardening has almost become an afterthought. I espied a box of my favourite mint chocolate crisps in the deli. Then I noticed they were £5.50 (twice the price of Waitrose) and promptly resisted, though the 'Traffic Jam' - a jar of jam in three flavours forming the green, orange and red of traffic lights was almost amusing enough to overcome the price tag for. After a few hours marvelling at the seductive uselessness of much of the merchandise on display on a sodden foggy day where we needed somewhere warm and dry to hang out, my friend and I left with a couple of half-price Christmas decorations, having succumbed to hot drinks and slices of exorbitant cake in the cafe.
Sometimes I feel tempted to revisit my teenage workplace to see if it has followed the fashion of putting chaise lounges before Sweet Williams, but I find if I wait long enough, the idea tends to go away again...
However I have got my eye on a rather palatial revolving summerhouse at my local garden centre if ever I win the lottery.


Steve said...

Gardening Centres seem to be turning into supermarkets these days - they sell everything but fresh milk and cornflakes. Diversification seems to the big thing. Personally I prefer specialist shops but they're becoming rare beasts indeed.

Geoff said...

My dad used to take me to the garden shop where he got his John Innes Potting Compost amongst other things. But his idea of gardening was growing things to eat whereas nowadays it's all about designing a similar space to thousands of others. Outdoors decorating.

Dan said...

Great post - but does this gardening centre offer loans, mobile phone contracts, whirlpool baths or 60 inch televisions? If not, it's rubbish. Seriously though - mints twice the price of Waitrose? Nice profits if they can shift any at that price...

Which garden centre is this?

LaDivaCucina said...

Geez Louise, this "gardening center" looks like a department store! (sure this isn't the U.S?) Darling, I saw your lovely comment over at Bite the Apple, something about a chestnut soup? If you have time, would you mind sending me your recipe? I've got the chestnuts! Thanks! ladivacucinaatgmaildotcom

Steerforth said...

There is something vaguely obscene about the fact that in one part of our planet, retired couples are spending large sums of money on kitsch water features for their gardens, whilst in another region, families struggle to find water to drink.

Garden centres can only thrive in a society where some people have too much time on their hands. They offer the illusion that we can buy the perfect life, whereas we should be emulating Blake, looking for "heaven in a wild flower".

Sorry if that's a bit Captain Sensible. I didn't realise that I had such strong feelings about garden centres!

Wisewebwoman said...

I have a friend who is an "outdoor living" designer. makes a fortune flogging outdoor furniture and fountains, etc to gullible couples with too much money (or debt). Fireplaces, ovens along with ubiqitous stainless steel BBQs bigger than my kitchen. And warming bars for the towels to dry you off once you leave the salt water pool.
We are all mad.
the time will come when we will all be planting potatoes in the ground.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, I couldn't agree more. Diversification is rendering all corporate retail outlets the same (ie they do everything, but nothing well), whilst forcing smaller specialist outlets out of business. It is outrageous and will be to the detriment of the shopper too when they are reduced to choosing all groceries and other goods from about two supermarket chains.

Good point Geoff - it seems that many people are forgetting the original point of having a garden (ie to grow food).

Tis Burford Garden Centre Dan, so probably my second local garden centre, but the largest in Oxfordshire.

LaDivaCucina - thanks for dropping by. Yes, I think the time will soon come when you can fly over and find English retail outlets indistinguishable from WalMart. I will look up my mother's recipe but may take a while as she's not online.

Steerforth - a salient point and I feel suitably shallow and a bit ashamed when visiting one. Then again, I don't see anyone buying overpriced furniture suites in there, so I actually wonder who it is all for, and in a recession. In addition the cast iron bedframes and sofas intended to ape 18th C ones are shockingly badly made upon closer inspection with sharp unwelded edges liable to either bend or injure easily. Perhaps trying to shift such stuff is the triumph of hope over common sense as even monied people don't want to pay through the nose for such frippery.

WWW - wow you have a friend who makes a living making such stuff? I only hope it is better quality than the stuff I saw for sale. At least if her stuff lasts for several generations and is useful (ie clothing airer), is has redemptive qualities.

Anonymous said...

I am sure this piece is tongue in cheek. Burford is by the far the best garden centre I have ever come across - and by that I mean it sells the best plants you can find anywhere. The fact that it sells all manner of other items is a bonus for me, a regular customer from Wales - and its great to see a very unique, independent business succeeding in a way corporate giants never could - that is with style and taste! Long may it continue.