All Grown Up: My Changing Attitude to Garden Centres


When I was a kid, the words, “Right then, I think we’ll just pop into the garden centre on the way home,” struck my sister and me with dread. I didn’t find many things in life more boring than wandering around an oversized greenhouse looking at potted plants. In case this wasn’t obvious, my Mum’s idea of “popping in” involved at least an hour of detailed examination of every available bulb, shrub and terracotta pot. If there wasn’t a pet section (or at the very least a decent selection of garden gnomes), this was not a suitably entertaining environment for two energetic children. When I asked my sister what she found boring about garden centres as a child, her answer was: “Everything except the play area.” The only other thing that could make a detour to the garden centre vaguely worthwhile was if we went to the one with the amazing bakery. Cake seemed to solve most issues when I was ten years old. Having said that, it probably still does.

In my student house, our garden was a bit of a jungle (massive understatement alert). I reckon we attempted to mow the lawn less than five times in the three years that I lived there. This was met with huge disapproval from the elderly couple across the street. I’m reasonably sure that they used nail scissors to trim the grass. I can safely say there will never be enough hours in my day to consider that a viable option. We used to try and coerce a male friend into mowing the lawn for us with the promise of a stir-fry for his troubles. I’m reasonably sure he might have ended up cooking for us too.

Now I’m all ‘grown up’, things have changed a bit. I should probably mention at this point that I’m not by any stretch of the imagination claiming to have developed fully-fledged green fingers just yet. Having had a patio laid (by a professional gardener, as our skills obviously don’t cover this), we have recently started to take an interest in ‘accessorising’ the back garden. We want to BBQ and play French cricket in a nice, well-kept, stylish garden thank you very much. Online shopping isn’t the easiest option when it comes to shopping for the garden. It would be utterly careless to buy a set of garden furniture without testing out the cushioned seat covers for yourself. And it would seem a bit odd to buy a big sack of compost or a potted plant on Amazon. So, feeling a little bit nervous and somewhat out of our depth, off we went to the local garden centre.

It wasn’t too bad! I would say we were verging on excitable in the outdoor furniture section. The array of lanterns, fire pits and chimineas awakened my inner pyromaniac. Which herbs shall we cultivate in our kitchen garden? Would a shrub with variegated leaves be preferable? I should probably admit at this point that we did have parental guidance on the plant side of things. Our main concern was choosing a very small number of shrubs and climbers that won’t die easily. If the houseplants we have already murdered are anything to go by, this might be tougher than it sounds. We did invest in a loyalty card though, so I suppose we’ll have to go back.

I assume that this reducing aversion to garden centres is some kind of progressive genetic malfunction. My parents still thoroughly enjoy an afternoon out at a garden centre. My Grandpa just can’t get enough of it. I wouldn’t say I’m going to spend Sunday afternoons there just because I haven’t got anything better to do, but the idea of popping in doesn’t repulse me. I can successfully navigate the IKEA-style maze without starting to have a mental breakdown about how thoroughly dull it all is. Going to the pet section is an added bonus rather than a coping strategy. By the time I’m dragging my own kids through the garden centre I’ll probably have forgotten how I felt about these places until I was placated with a slice of cake.

Incidentally, my sister tells me that she asked for garden centre vouchers for Christmas last year…